Friday, February 02, 2007

Leviticus 15

Leviticus 15: Rules for discharges causing uncleanness


This chapter has rules for various types of “discharge,” which would cause a person to be ceremonially unclean.

The first type of discharge is left undefined. It simply says, in verses 1–3a:
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When any man has a bodily discharge, the discharge is unclean. Whether it continues flowing from his body or is blocked, it will make him unclean.’”
One commentary I read said that “[t]he 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.” In any event, the chapter goes on to list the various ways that this uncleanness can be passed on:
  • Any bed he laid down on, or anything else he sat on, would be unclean. If anyone else touched such an item, that person would also be unclean.
  • Anyone who touched the man himself would become unclean.
  • If the man spit on someone else, that person would become unclean.
  • Anything the man sat on while riding, and anyone else who touched those things, would be unclean.
  • Anyone the man touched, if he hadn’t washed his hands, would be unclean.
  • If the man touched a clay pot, it was to be broken, and if he touched something wooden, the article was to be rinsed with water.
It mentions specifically in each of these situations that if anyone else, other than the man, had his uncleanness passed on to them, they had to wash their clothes, and they would be unclean until evening.

When the man had been cleansed from his discharge, he had to present himself to the priest:
  • Seven days after he was cleansed from the discharge, he was to wash his clothes and bath in fresh water, to be clean.
  • On the eighth day he was to come before the LORD at the entrance to the tent of meeting, bringing two doves or two young pigeons. The priest would take the birds and sacrifice them, one for a sin offering and one for a burnt offering, to “make atonement before the LORD for the man because of his discharge” (verse 15).
Again, we have the concept of the man having to present a sin offering, for his uncleanness. However, in this case, there may very well be a specific sin being atoned for; it’s quite possible—to me, with my lack of medical knowledge—that the type of discharge being described here might be caused by a sexually transmitted disease.

The next rules go on to talk about emissions of semen:
  • When a man had an emission of semen, he was to wash his clothes, and he would be unclean until evening.
  • If the semen touched any clothing or leather, the article was to be rinsed with water, and would also be unclean until evening.
  • When the emission of semen happened during sex, the woman the man was having sex with also had to wash with water, and would be unclean until evening.
In this case, no sacrifices or ceremonies are prescribed, for regaining cleanness. They simply bathed, and remained unclean until evening.
  • When a woman had her period, she would be unclean for seven days.
    • Anyone who touched her during this time would also become unclean, but would only be unclean until that evening.
  • Anything she laid down on or sat on during her period would become unclean. It doesn’t mention a length of time for the item to remain unclean.
  • Anyone who touched her bed, or anything she sat on, would become unclean, and have to bathe with water, but the person would only remain unclean until evening.
  • If a man laid with her, and her monthly flow touched him, he would be unclean for seven days, and any bed he laid on would also become unclean.
Normally, in the Bible, when we read about a man “lying with” a woman, it’s referring to sex. However, based on the context here, I think this would also apply to the man simply lying in bed with her, if the flow from her period touched him.
  • If a woman had a discharge of blood other than her period, or that extended beyond her period, she would remain unclean for as long as the discharge continued, just as she was during her period.
    • i.e. any bed she laid on, or chair she sat on, would become unclean; anyone who touched her bed or chair would become unclean, and have to bathe, and would remain unclean until evening.
  • Similar to the “discharge” talked about earlier, for men, when the woman’s discharge finished, she was to wait seven days, and then go to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, bringing two doves or two young pigeons. The priest would sacrifice one for a sin offering, and one for a burnt offering, to “make atonement for her before the LORD for the uncleanness of her discharge” (verse 30).
The rules are the same as for the man who had a discharge; I have to wonder if this type of discharge might also be caused by a sexually transmitted disease?


As so often happens, when I read the rules involving “uncleanness,” I find myself trying to distinguish between what’s sinful and what’s not. In this chapter, the unexplained types of discharge at the beginning and the end of the chapter required sacrifices and atonement, whereas uncleanness from semen or a woman’s period did not. That seems significant.

This chapter includes a verse which makes it explicit why the LORD was handing down these rules:
You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them. (verse 31)
Regardless of what caused the uncleanness, regardless of whether it was sinful or not, the Israelites were always to remember that their God dwelled among them, and they had to be holy for His sake. Regardless of whether an uncleanness was caused by a sin, or just something that naturally happened, the Israelites were to take care of it and treat it seriously, to avoid defiling the LORD’s dwelling place.

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