Tag Archives: clean and unclean

Leviticus 22:1-16

Scripture: from verse 9

The cohanim must observe this charge of mine… I am Adonai, who makes them holy.

Observation:  The passage orders that any priest who is unclean (whether because he had sex, or touched a bug, or interacted with an unclean person) is not allowed to eat the holy food until he is clean again.

I doubt that God structured this so that His priests would starve, but it was still a pretty stringent regulation.  It doesn’t seem fair that they would be cut off from their jobs so frequently.

But God was the one who made them holy in the first place.  The sacrifices belong to Him, not to them.  He could insist on holiness because He was the one giving it.

Humans aren’t holy.  We don’t belong in God’s presence.  We can’t survive it.  That’s why Yeshua became our holiness – our wisdom and our righteousness and our redemption are all Him (1 Cor 1:30).  We have nothing except what He gives us.

Praise God He gives it freely.

Application:  Look to Messiah to be your righteousness.  There’s no other way in.

Prayer:  Yeshua, thank you so much for being my holiness.  Thank you for saving me when I was beyond help.  Help me to remember that you are my covering, and all I have to do is seek your face.  Amen.

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Leviticus 21:13-24

Scripture: verse 17

None of [Aharon’s] descendants who has a defect may approach to offer the bread of his God.

Observation:  Men of the priestly families who had congenital deformities or major health problems weren’t allowed in the sanctuary.  They were still allowed to eat the things set aside for priests to eat, but they didn’t participate in formal worship.

This wasn’t fair.  It still isn’t fair.  Today God would get hit with all sorts of lawsuits for discriminatory practices.

But the fact is, God discriminates against all humans.  For being sinful.  For having lied or gossiped or been prideful or resentful.  None of us measure up.

The point of the formal worship laid out here is not to make humans good.  Its point is to remind humans that God is holy and they are not.  It’s there to remind us that we can’t be good.

But Yeshua didn’t come for humans that were good.  Like a doctor, He comes for those who need Him (Mark 2).  The tired and the hungry and the poor and the sick.  The sinners.  He came for us.

Application:  Stop worrying about whether you measure up.  You don’t.  But He does.

Prayer:  Yeshua, thank you for coming for me.  Thank you for covering me with your righteousness.  Help me to trust you too make all things new.  Amen.

Leviticus 20:15-27

Scripture: verse 21

If a man takes his brother’s wife, it is uncleanness; he has disgraced his brother sexually; they will be childless.

Observation:  The penalties for sexual impurity varied depending on the offense, sometimes without any obvious reason.  Sometimes the offenders were killed, sometimes they were exiled, and sometimes they weren’t punished by the community, but by God.

This reminds me of the story in 2 Samuel 24.  David does something idiotic (David was good at that.  But then, who isn’t?) and God gives him a choice of punishments: three years of famine, three months of war, or three days of plague.  David chooses the plague, because he’d rather be punished by a gracious and loving God than fall into the hands of men.

Which is not to say that marrying one’s sister-in-law is a good plan, of course.  Sin never is.  But I’m glad that I can trust God with my heart and know that even His correction is loving and as gentle as possible.  That God sees me and knows me and is working in me and won’t break me.

Sometimes it’s scary, walking the path that God sets out.  Sometimes I have to tell things to my friends or my husband that I’d rather keep private.  Sometimes He asks me to do things that make me feel vulnerable.  But I know that I’m safe.  That He holds my heart, and that He is my shield.  And if I’m going to trip and fall (and I’m definitely going to trip and fall sooner or later) there’s no safer place to do it than in Him.  Because even His discipline is full of grace.

Application:  Trust God with your sin.  Trust Him to know how to fix you.  Better wounds from a Friend than kisses from an enemy (Proverbs 27:6).

Prayer:  Father, it scares me sometimes that you can see all my sin.  Thank you for being patient and gracious and calling me righteous when I’m not perfect.  Please help me to trust you as you guide me.  Amen.

Leviticus 15:16-33

Scripture: verse 18

If a man goes to bed with a woman and has sexual relations, both are to bathe themselves in water; they will be unclean until evening.

Observation:  Having sex with your spouse renders you unclean until evening.  Presumably the following evening, but I’m not sure.  It’s possible that couples who have sex just before sundown didn’t have to be unclean for very long.

I have to admit that this mystifies me.  Couples who only have sex a few times a month won’t be unduly bothered by it, but most couples (today, at least) have sex at least once a week.  High-drive couples and newlyweds and such would just never get to be clean.  Which would make sense if God were anti-sex, but He isn’t.

On the other hand, there’s a rule about newlyweds: they aren’t supposed to be given heavy responsibilities.  A new husband was free for one year, to make his wife happy (Deut 24:5).

So we have two sides here: ceremony, and intimacy.  And intimacy detracts from ceremony.  Intimacy with other people is also likely to result in uncleanness, for that matter, since it was the people who were closest to sick and mourning people who would be most likely to be made unclean.

And intimacy trumps ceremony.  Someone who was unclean couldn’t participate in Temple worship, but we also know that God wanted His people to love each other more than He wanted them to perform the ceremonies (Isaiah 58.)

And then in Luke 10, we have the story of Miriam and Marta.  Marta bustled around doing the work of preparing for a feast.  Miriam chose to sit at Yeshua’s feet and gaze into His face, and Yeshua said that she had chosen the one thing that is essential.

We are relational creatures.  We need intimacy far more than we need ceremony.

Application:  Prioritize intimacy above duty.  Intimacy with God, with family, with friends, is more important than most of the other stuff we “should” be doing.

Prayer:  Father, thank you for creating us to be intimate with each other.  Help me to see the opportunities you are giving me to know others and be known.  Amen.

Leviticus 14:1-32

Scripture: verses 6 and 7

As for the live bird, [the priest] is to take it with the cedar-wood, scarlet yarn and hyssop and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird slaughtered over running water, and sprinkle the person to be purified from the tzara‘at [leprosy] seven times. Next he is to set the live bird free in an open field.

Observation:  The rituals for purifying someone from leprosy have got to be one of the most elaborate sets of rituals in Leviticus – certainly it seems more complicated than consecrating the priests did.  This is the first ritual, done after the priest has examined the person and determined that he is clean again.

We see numerous symbols of purification and preservation here.  Cedar wood was probably used then, as it is now, to keep critters away from clothing.  Isaiah 1 promises that our scarlet-dyed sins will be as white as snow.  Hyssop is a purgative, as mentioned in Psalm 51.  Running water was used for washing, and the live bird was freed after being dipped in sacrificial blood.  (Incidentally, I would not want to try dipping a live, healthy bird into blood.  That seems like something that would go horribly!)

But what gets me is that these things don’t make the person who had leprosy clean.  He still has to spend another seven days outside his tent (though he can be inside the camp) and then offer more sacrifices before he is truly clean.  These things are the promise of being clean.

We aren’t given purgatives and bleach so we can make ourselves perfect.  It doesn’t work that way.  God gave us those things as a picture of what He offers.

Living clean and doing good things and being generous to others and all the good things we do are not things that make us holy.  God gave us those things to be a picture of His grace and His will.  But if we spend all our time looking at the picture, we’ll never accept His offer.  We’ll never be clean.

There’s only one way to be clean: through the sacrifice of the Lamb.  Everything else is just a promise of what’s to come.

Application:  Don’t spend all your time and energy on the picture.  Claim His blood and His gift.  Seek His face.  See the rest for what it is: a set of useful tools and helpful pictures, but not salvation.

Prayer:  Yeshua, thank you for being my Lamb.  Thank you for making me clean when nothing else could.  Help me not to get distracted by things that don’t work.  Amen.

Leviticus 13:1-28

Scripture: from verse 13

If [the priest] sees that the tzara‘at (leprosy) has covered his entire body, he is to pronounce the person with the sores clean — it has all turned white, and he is clean.

Observation:  Leprosy (which appears to be an umbrella term for all malignant skin disease, not just what we know as leprosy today) was a curse from God, a sign of His wrath.  Logically, someone who has had leprosy in the past, while no longer contagious, is still someone to be rejected as having earned God’s wrath.  But this is the Father of Light we’re talking about, and human logic doesn’t measure up.

While the leprosy is expanding and contagious, the person is unclean and can’t be a part of the community.  But if the disease goes into remission, and the sores turn into scars, then he’s allowed back in.  He’s clean.  He may still look terrible, but God has declared him clean again.

Holiness isn’t about outward appearances.  My journey is not your journey.  We are all sinners and we all need to be healed.  So just because one set of sins is more visible or even more hurtful than another doesn’t mean God isn’t at work.  It just means He has his own plan.

We’ve all earned God’s wrath.  None of us are especially pretty inside.  But He’s made us clean, and He’s declared us family.

Application:  Don’t judge others by the sins that are showing.  We’ve all got some.  Don’t judge others by their past mistakes, either, because we’ve all got those too.  The fact that some have larger consequences on Earth doesn’t mean they look any different in Heaven.

Prayer:  Yeshua, thank you for making me clean.  Help me to understand that the others around me are just as clean in you, despite their past mistakes or current habits.  Help me encourage and love others instead of snarking at them.  Amen.

Leviticus 12

Scripture: verse five

If she gives birth to a girl, she will be unclean for two weeks, as [during her period]; and she is to wait another sixty-six days to be purified from her blood.

Observation:  This chapter deals with a woman’s time of uncleanness after the birth of a baby: she was unclean for forty days after the birth of a boy, and eighty after the birth of a girl.  Once the time was over, she brought a burnt offering and a sin offering, and then she was clean.

Despite the presence of the sin offering, it seems highly unlikely that God considered childbirth sinful.  I’m going to guess that the offering was to cover the time she’s spent being unclean, or possibly to cover herself and her child as sinful people, which all humans are, with one exception.

And being unclean for a time was probably just as well; after the birth of a baby, she’s not going to want to get up and get back to normal life.  The rest is important.

But I haven’t the faintest idea why she was unclean for twice as long after a girl.  Girls aren’t more stressful.  God didn’t consider them inherently more sinful.  They were considered less valuable by the society, though, so perhaps God was giving her time to avoid the gossip?  Perhaps God was giving her extra time to bond with her baby and feed her well, so the baby would have a head start in a less-friendly environment?

I love that God sees everyone and all their needs, from Moses and his tendency to overwork to the newborn baby girl who needed some extra time with her mother.  I love that God understands that we live in a society that is not always friendly or fair.  I love that God has a plan for every need, from food in the desert to protection from gossip.

“My God will supply all your needs according to his glorious wealth, in union with the Messiah Yeshua.” (Philippians 4:19)  Every. single. need.  He’s got it covered.

Application:  Trust Him with your needs.  Trust Him to understand that even needs that are objectively quite minor still feel big to you.  He has a plan for them.  He has a plan for you.

Prayer:  Father, thank you for filling all of my needs.  Thank you for giving me grace in the times that I need it.  Help me to trust you.  Amen.

Leviticus 11:24-47

Scripture: from verse 24

Whoever touches the carcass of [an unclean animal] will be unclean until evening, and whoever picks up any part of their carcass is to wash his clothes and be unclean until evening…

Observation:  So here we have this “uncleanness” thing.  Lots of things rendered people temporarily unclean, including touching dead things, giving birth, and cleaning up after certain sacrifices.  It doesn’t appear to be a state of sin, since sin requires sacrifice to be cleared, but it does prevent the person affected from participating in worship and society.  In many cases, this was probably a practical benefit: it helped keep germs and other contaminants from spreading, and it gave women a period of rest after childbirth and during their periods.

I’m never sure what to do with this rule.  Sooner or later I have to handle the bodies of dead things (usually worms and flies and the like), unless I can get my husband to do it for me.  Naturally I use a tissue, but the law doesn’t say whether it still applies if you pick it up with something.  Admittedly we’re no longer condemned by the Law, but I’m still relieved whenever I discover that the worm I found is actually still alive and therefore not part of this commandment.

And that’s probably the real purpose of these rules: to remind us that the world that exists is not the world that God desires.  Death is the result of sin in the world, and so is the pain of childbirth and the difficulty of making a living.  God plans to redeem His creation, and once He does nothing will be unclean anymore.

So we acknowledge that this world is broken, and we are grateful that we only spend a short time on it.  Our home is with Him for eternity.  Uncleanness lasts until evening, but joy awaits in the morning.

Application:  Look forward to eternity rather than getting swamped by this life.  Our current troubles will not last.  Light is coming.

Prayer:  Father, thank you for building a home for me.  Thank you for preparing joy and peace that I can look forward to when life on Earth is difficult and chaotic.  Help me to trust you when you say the all will be well.  Amen.