Leviticus 15 ~ 20160918 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
09/18 Leviticus 15; Bodily Discharges; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160918_leviticus-15.mp3
We are in Leviticus 15, a passage I've been looking forward to preaching on for some time now. If you're new, we believe that all scripture is breathed out by God and profitable, so our normal practice here is to pick a book of the Bible and study our way through it, listening for what God has to say to us. Some of our regulars who know this read ahead in the text, and some of them saw what was coming and decided this would be a good week to be out of town. Others of you who read ahead are here out of a morbid sense of curiosity to see what in the world we are going to do with this chapter. The rest of you who don't read ahead have no idea what you are in for today! Sometimes the worship team asks me what I am going to be preaching on, so they can pick a song that ties in with the main idea of the message. Leviticus 15 is about unclean bodily discharges from the male and female reproductive organs, so I am eager to hear what song they choose to close our service with today, if we make it that far.
Before we read through the passage this morning, I want to put in front of you an outline of the chapter, that I believe will help us make sense of it. The Bible is a brilliant literary masterpiece, and there is structure in the text that we often miss if we do not take the time to look carefully. Just reading through the text we might get lost in the gross details and miss the beautiful symmetry of the passage.
This chapter is what is called a chiastic or X shaped structure where two halves of the passage mirror one another to demonstrate the fundamental unity in a double sided event or phenomena. This chapter is about human sexuality and it moves from abnormal to normal and climaxes (!) in the intimacy between male and female. The very structure of this passage reminds us of Genesis 1, where
Keep in mind, as we read this chapter, that God created man as male and female, each uniquely and purposefully designed for intimacy within the marriage relationship, and that everything God created was good, and this specifically was 'very good.' Also keep in mind that we rebelled against God's good authority and brought sin and death and disease and brokenness into God's good creation.
God Involved in All of Life
Notice, first of all, this chapter begins with the now familiar words 'The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying...' This is God's very word. This is the LORD God speaking to his people. This chapter is God breathed and profitable. And God is addressing some very personal, very private, very intimate, uncomfortable issues. This is important for us to grasp. God is involved in all of life. We want to compartmentalize. These are the things I talk about at church with my church friends. This is what I talk about when there are kids in the room. This is what I talk about with my spouse. This is what I talk about with the guys at work or at school. There are things I say in one setting that I would never dare to say in a different setting. We keep everything in its box. I punch the clock and put in my time at work, but I don't bring my work home with me. I put in my time at church this week, but I don't want to let God into the other areas of my life. There are public things and private things, and what I do in my private life is none of your business and none of God's business either. This passage screams out 'wrong!' What you do in your private life matters greatly to God. God is intimately involved in every area of your life. Here is a familiar verse from Hebrews that is followed by one maybe less familiar that may make you a bit uncomfortable:
Not only are we held accountable for every action, whether public or secret, but we are accountable for the thoughts and intentions of the heart. God knows and God cares about every detail of our lives.
Also, there is no problem too personal that we should feel uncomfortable bringing to God. He knows about it already! He cares. He is eager to help.
Distinction Between Sin and Uncleanness
One thing we need to keep clear in our minds that will keep us from misunderstanding and misinterpreting a passage like this is that uncleanness does not equal sin. There are many things that are normal natural essential parts of life that make one unclean, but that does not mean that the activity is sinful. Sexual intimacy between a husband and wife is a good gift given by God, celebrated in the Song of Solomon, commanded in 1 Corinthians 7.
As an aside to our single people, if you are engaging in any kind of sexual intimacy, you are sinning against God and against the design of your own body. And to our married people, if you are withholding intimacy from your spouse outside of these very specific circumstances, you are sinning against God and against your spouse.
So if sex is a good gift from God, why did it make you unclean under the old covenant? Remember, clean and unclean are categories which established boundaries of action that kept a person from entering the presence of God in the tabernacle or temple. God was making it very clear that he was not to be worshiped by means of cult prostitution or fertility rites as was common in the religions of Israel's neighbors. This was another way of drawing a distinction between God's chosen people and the rest of the world. The danger that Israel constantly battled was the practices of her neighbors creeping in and corrupting the pure worship of God. From the golden calf to the sin with Moab under the direction of Balaam, to the kings of Israel setting up high places, there was a temptation to incorporate sexual practices into the worship of God. This was a way to prevent legitimate normal biological functions from defiling the holy presence of God.
Notice in this text that for the uncleanness caused by intimacy or by normal discharges, there were no sacrifices required, only washing and waiting. For abnormal discharges, a sacrifice was required, demonstrating that the issue was connected with death, decay and the curse, a result of the fall. [See revised outline]
Common Sense Wisdom from God
This passage contains some common sense practical wisdom that we take for granted, but it was way ahead of its time. Notice how frequently this chapter talks about washing in water? This basic hygiene would help prevent the spread of disease. Notice verse 11 stresses the importance of washing ones hands. In 1847 Ignaz Semmelweis made a connection between the high mortality rate in one maternity clinic and doctors who performed autopsies and then delivered babies. He demonstrated that simple hand washing could drastically reduce the mortality rate. His ideas were rejected. And this is some 3,000 years after Leviticus was written!
In this chapter uncleanness can come even through contact with an object that has been in contact with an unclean person. Saliva in verse 8 is seen as something that can convey uncleanness. While being helpful sanitary procedure, this may also help to explain some possible situations that would lead to 'unintentional sin' that required sacrifice in the earlier chapters of Leviticus. What if you didn't know that the place you sat had been made unclean by someone who sat there before you?
Notice also a practical blessing of this passage. A woman during her monthly cycle is unclean for 7 days, which would mean that she was required to take a break and enjoy rest from the normal pressures and responsibilities of daily life.
Jesus Our Healer
But remember, we are not looking to Leviticus to find rules to obey. We are looking to find glimpses of Jesus, because the Bible is all about Jesus. This passage in Leviticus provides the background for an event recorded in Matthew 9, Mark 5 and Luke 8. We will look at Mark's more detailed account.
Some things that Leviticus helps us understand: This woman was not supposed to be in a crowd. Everyone she bumped into in the crowd became unclean until evening. Even Jesus, by her touch would become ceremonially unclean. Her issue was a private thing. No one else knew about it. She apparently did a good job keeping it hidden. But it still affected everyone she came in contact with. They became unclean, and that was dangerous. This explains her 'fear and trembling' when she was called out for what she did. Not only fear of how Jesus would respond, but how the whole crowd would respond to her blatant violation of the cleanliness code. This gives greater importance to Jesus' words 'go in peace.'
This incident is also a reminder that Leviticus doesn't give cures for problems. Leviticus identifies the problem and describes the consequences for having the problem, but it doesn't give any prescription for what to do to fix the problem. If you have the disease, here's what that means for you in society, and if somehow you get healed here's the sacrifices you need to offer to be re-connected with God and society. This woman was desperate. She had suffered this chronic condition for 12 years. She was flat broke, having spent all she had seeking some help, but instead she got worse. You see, when we look for help in the wrong places, it often makes things worse.
Jesus is the missing cure for all the diseases in Leviticus. Jesus is the one so powerful that even touching the edge of his clothing in a crowd has transforming power. Jesus,is not defiled by the touch of sinners, but rather reverses the effects of sin. Jesus is YHWH Rapha (Ex.15:26) the Lord our healer.
Jesus ultimately is the one who can bring us back to God.
The danger, graphically illustrated back in chapter 10 with Nadab and Abihu, was that entering God's presence while in and unfit condition would result in death. God placed his tent in the middle of his people because he desires to be with his people, to be in fellowship with his people. But God is holy, and the presence of God for someone who is unclean is dangerous.
Jesus died so that without condoning our sin or compromising God's perfect holiness, we can be welcomed into the very presence of God. Jesus came and took our sin, took our uncleanness, in order to bring us to God.
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org