Purification and Defilement

Moses wrote the book of Leviticus between 1440 and 1400 B.C. As we approach a discussion about purification and defilement in chapters 12-16, we must be recognizant of what Leviticus is truly all about. I mentioned previously that “Leviticus” means “pertaining to the Levites”, and we just saw the completion of a seven-day ordination of Aaron and his sons, followed by the premature death of two of Aaron’s sons as punishment for disobeying God. A major theme of Leviticus is the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. As we are, in our rawest form, we are unfit to approach our Holy Father. Leviticus aims to teach the people how to properly approach God and how they are to worship him.

Chapter 12 is a short chapter on the purification process after childbirth. An Israelite woman who gave birth to a son was considered ceremonially unclean for seven days. On the eighth day Israelite boys were to be circumcised. After this, the women were expected to wait an additional 33 days to be completely purified from bleeding. During that time she was forbidden to touch anything sacred or go into the sanctuary until she was free from all bleeding. If an Israelite woman gave birth to a daughter, she was ceremonially unclean for two weeks, and had to wait 36 days for complete purification. For either a son or daughter, after the mother was rendered clean again, a sacrifice had to made of a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or dove for a sin offering.

Because of this simple and short chapter, I rejected one of my previous beliefs that “unclean” always refers to something sinful. We are discussing natural human functions here that are beyond our control. I know I would have preferred if childbirth was painless and neat, but lo and behold, it was neither 🙂  In certain instances uncleanness does seem to refer to sin, but the two are not always synonymous.

Chapters 13 and 14 discuss defiling skin diseases and molds and how to be cleansed of them. Leprosy is a skin condition often seen in the Bible and appears to describe several different types of skin afflictions. Some were curable and some were fatal. I assume it may have been difficult, particularly at the onset of a skin disease, to determine which ones were contagious and which were harmless, so people with leprosy, referred to as lepers, were quarantined from the rest of the brethren. Briefly, chapter 13 discusses the process of determining whether one has leprosy. The priest is charged with examining the afflicted individual and making this determination based on specific criterion (for example: “If the shiny spot on the skin is white but does not appear to be more than skin deep and  the hair in it has not turned white, the priest is to isolate the affected person for seven days” (v. 4)), and also deciding whether or not one who had leprosy was completely cured (“On the seventh day the priest is to examine them, and if he sees that the sore is unchanged and has not spread in the skin, he is to isolate them for another seven days. On the seventh day the priest is to examine them again, and if the sore has faded and has not spread in the skin, the priest shall pronounce them clean; it is only a rash” (v. 5-6a)).

Of note is the Scripture found at verse 11: “…it is a chronic skin disease and the priest shall pronounce them unclean. He is not to isolate them, because they are already unclean”. I was momentarily confused by this passage until I thought of the meaning of the word “chronic”. I wondered why this particular afflicted person did not need to be expelled from the camp. A chronic condition is one that will not go away. It develops over time and tends to get worse, and is something that while not curable, is considered manageable with the proper treatment. In this case, this person probably has had this condition in some form over a period of time and it has been determined that it is not necessarily contagious. The point of separating lepers from the rest of the congregation was to ensure that they did not pass their condition on to others, so apparently the condition referred to in verse 11 did not fit in with the quarantine requirements. While they did not need to be separated from the other people, their unclean status did, however, keep them away from God, just like an unsaved sinner’s (because those of us who are saved are simply saved sinners, sinners saved by grace) status keeps them from God today. In a sense, sinners today who continue to willfully sin ought to also be separated from the congregation of true believers. Of course if we see a brother or sister in Christ backsliding we should prayerfully try to help them with the goal of bringing them back into proper fellowship with Jesus. But there is a line that has to be drawn, as we are to separated from the world system which is masterfully controlled by Satan. Sin is contagious, and we ought not keep up any associations with people who insist on living sinful lives. Leprosy is often symbolically used in the Bible to indicate sinful status.

Not all skin conditions required expulsion from the camp; not all skin diseases automatically rendered the afflicted individual unclean. Look at verses 12 and 13: “If the disease breaks out all over their skin and, so far as the priest can see, it covers all the skin of the affected person from head to foot, the priest is to examine them, and if the disease has covered their whole body, he shall pronounce them clean. Since it has all turned white, they are clean”. However, the appearance of raw flesh illustrates uncleanness.

There is a brief mention of how color of a hair could demonstrate whether one was healed or not. A sore on the head or chin with a yellow hair indicated that a person was unclean and had a defiling skin disease. A black hair indicated one was healed. I suppose it is safe to assume that that was because their hair was naturally black or dark (because as I read, I try to imagine what these people looked like–not that it is a huge deal, that’s just how I am).

Verse 45 outlines what to me is a bizarre part of being unclean. Besides dealing with what I assume is the embarrassment that accompanies unclean status and the possibility of being excluded from the camp and from worship, an unclean person was also instructed to “wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out ‘Unclean! Unclean!'”. Understandably, this was to keep others from getting too close to them, but in my humble opinion which is definitely guided by my 20th century upbringing, the practice is still bizarre. I guess it is because of my waffling opinion on privacy particularly as related to health care. Imagine if people with contagious diseases that were not visible to the naked eye were required to visibly and vocally inform people of their status. I think of the situations in which people who were infected with HIV or AIDS willingly slept with other people without letting them know they had the condition. In those instances, I was offended and thought it would be beneficial if the bizarre practice outlined in verse 45 was still in effect today. But there are people who have certain contagious conditions who are very responsible about communicating that to whomever it is required, and at the end of the day their privacy ought to respected–so I dunno 🙂

As for defiling molds, any fabric that comes in contact with them must be presented to the priest for examination. Depending on its color the priest will isolate it for seven days, reexamine it, and if the mold has spread, it is considered a defiling mold, rendering the garment unclean. The garment must be burned. If the mold has not spread, the garment can be washed, isolated for an additional seven days, and examined again. If at that point the mold has not changed in appearance but not spread, it is still unclean and must be burned. However, if the mold has faded, the priest can tear out the affected part of the garment, and if the mold reappears the garment has to be burned.

Chapter 14 discusses cleansing from defilement. I’ll be as brief as I can, because the instructions for this are extremely specific.

Side note: On a whim, I looked up information as to how the Bible was structured. Moses did not use the term “chapter” for example to denote when he was moving on to another topic in his original writings, I assume, and we know the headings and divisions in our Bible were inserted by man. So instead of using “chapter 14” for example, Moses uses phrases such as “The Lord said to Moses”, and this was used to help individuals know when it was appropriate to start a new chapter or section. I am glad they did, because can you imagine reading these books without chapters or headings of any sort? The first person from what I have read to add divisions to the Bible was a man named Stephen Langton, an Archbishop of Canterbury who was educated at the University of Paris. In 1227 A.D. it is reported that he divided in the Bible into chapters. In the year 1448, a Jewish rabbi simply known as Nathan further divided the Old Testament into verses. Robert Stephanus followed suit and divided the New Testament into verses in 1555. There has been plenty of controversy over these divisions, as some understandably argued that these guys overstepped their boundaries by adding the divisions, but I applaud them for the sake of order and organization.

But I digress.

After the priest has determined that a person suffering from a skin disease has been healed, the priest has the following instructions:

“…the priest shall order that two live clean birds and some cedar wood, scarlet yarn and hyssop be brought for the person to be cleansed. Then the priest shall order that one of the birds be killed over the fresh water in a clay pot. He is then to take the live bird and dip it, together with the cedar wood, the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, into the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. Seven times he shall sprinkle the one to be cleansed of the defiling disease, and then pronounce them clean. After that, he is to release the live bird in the open fields” (vv. 4-7).

Yep. The instructions were that specific. Of course yours truly wonders why a hot bath wouldn’t have been sufficient, but… moving right along.

After the bird thingy, the person did have to wash their clothes, and they also had to shave off all of their hair and bathe. Then they would be rendered clean and able to come into the camp, but must still stay outside of their tent for seven additional days. Whatever hair that they either missed the first time or has regrown in that seven days has to be shaved off again (this assumption I made, because at verse 9 the afflicted person is told to shave of all of their hair, but they had already been instructed to do just that in verse 8. Or perhaps in verse 8 the person is supposed to shave off the hair in the afflicted area and in verse 9 they are being told to get rid of all their hair–“their head, their beard, their eyebrows and the rest of their hair”). They are then instructed to wash their clothes and bathe again and they will be clean. On the eighth day the newly cleansed Israelite has to bring forth two male lambs, one ewe lamb a year old, three-tenths of an ephah (remember an ephah=a bushel, it is a unit of dry measure) of the finest flour mixed with olive oil for a grain offering, and one log of oil for offering purposes.

One of the male lambs is offered up as a guilt offering, and along with the log of oil, a wave offering. As was when Aaron was consecrated, some of the blood from the lamb is placed on the right earlobe, right thumb and right big toe of the healed person. Some of the oil is to be sprinkled on the person seven times, and then some of the oil is placed on the person in the same pattern as the blood from the lamb (earlobe, thumb, toe) and on top of the blood of the guilt offering. The remaining oil is to be placed on the person who is to be cleansed to make atonement for them before the Lord. Oil in the Old Testament symbolizes holiness. There were also some practical purposes for oils (but not the special oil that the priests used in these instances–this oil was set apart and not to be used for anything else) in terms of their medicinal properties and caring for the skin (which was necessary in a hot and dry climate).

Take note of verse 21, which provides yet ANOTHER example of the Lord’s loving provision for those with moderate means: “If, however, they are poor and cannot afford these, they must take one male lamb as a guilt offering to be waved to make atonement for them (so the sacrificial lamb was an absolute must even then), together with a tenth of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with olive oil for a grain offering, a log of oil, and two doves or two young pigeons, such as they can afford, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering” (italics inserted by me). God’s love and provision is extended for everyone! The rich do not have an advantage over the poor, and vice versa. We are all on equal playing ground when it comes to God. That is why I love God so much. Can you imagine a society where people did not judge people based on wealth, looks, or other man-made standards? I can’t. I’ve lived in this one for too long to even be able to grasp such a concept. Yet, with Jesus I have total acceptance of who I am in terms of how God made me. I don’t have to ever be ashamed of my financial status because I know that God loves me as much as he loves the rich Christian. Although the amount of these sacrifices were different, they were given in the same manner and both meant that the defiled person was now restored.

As for defiling molds, the Lord provides instructions on how molds are to be treated once the camp settles in Canaan, the land that God is giving them to. Recall that right now the Israelites are camped in the wilderness and living in tents. These passages refer to the walls that make up the more permanent structure of a house.

If a homeowner sees mold, he has to first get the priest, who is then to order the house emptied so as to save the furnishings from being pronounced unclean. If the mold has turned a certain color and there are accompanying depressions in the wall, the priest will then close up the house for seven days, return on the seventh day to inspect the mold, and if it has spread, order the contaminated stones to be torn out and thrown into a receptacle for unclean items outside of town. The remaining inner walls of the house have to be scraped and that material is also to be dumped outside of town. The moldy stones are then to be replaced by new clay and plaster.

If the mold reappears after all this has taken place, the priest has to go in the house to determine if the mold has spread, and if so, declare the house persistently defiled and unclean. This particular house must be torn down, and the remnants taken to the location outside of town for unclean items. No one must enter the house during it is closed up lest they become unclean, and anyone who sleeps or eats in the house is required to wash their clothes.

Admittedly, I find it odd that atonement must be made for a mildewed house, but… so it is.

Chapter 15 delves into defiling discharges. A man with a bodily discharge is considered unclean, as is the bed he lies on and anything he sits on. Anyone who touches his bed or sits on anything he has sat on is considered unclean until the evening and is required to wash their clothes and bathe. Anyone who comes into physical contact with the man with discharge is considered unclean until the evening as well and has to wash his or her clothes and bathe.

If a man with discharge spits on someone (disgusting. I’d rather be punched with a closed fist than spit on) who is otherwise clean, that person has to wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they too are considered unclean until the evening.

To make a very specific set of passages of Scripture short, a man with a discharge is unclean and anything or anyone he comes into contact with becomes unclean as well. Once he is cleansed from the discharge he has to wait seven days (naturally) then bathe himself and wash his clothes. On the eighth day, of course, the required sacrifices occur–two doves or two young pigeons, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering.

When a man has an emission of semen he has to bathe his entire body and is considered unclean until the evening, and he has to wash any clothes or leather that may have semen on them and they too are considered unclean until the evening. The same applies to sexual intercourse–after a man has intercourse with a woman that involves the emission of semen, they must both bathe and are unclean till the evening.

A menstruating woman is unclean and is so for seven days. The same rules apply as the man with the bodily discharge, in terms of anything she lies on or sits on is unclean, etc. A woman with discharge beyond her period is unclean and is so for as long as she has the discharge, and anything she lies or sits upon is considered unclean, and anyone who comes into contact with unclean surfaces on which the menstruating woman or woman with the discharge has laid or sat becomes unclean until the evening. After seven days free of menstruation or discharge the woman has to fulfill the same process as the man by bringing two doves or two young pigeons as offerings.

God says: “You must keep the Israelites separate from the things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them” (v. 31).

So there we have it. I apologize for this abrupt ending, but for whatever reasons my head is beginning to swirl just a tad :-). It is best that I lay down for awhile.

Before I do, I must congratulate the jurors who convicted James Holmes of first-degree murder.

James Holmes found guilty of first-degree murder in the Aurora theater trial

I may be wrong, and God help me if I am, but I get tired when every time someone commits a crime like this, people jump up and say they were mentally ill. Undoubtedly mental illness is a major concern in our world today, and those with mental illness deserve help. But not everyone who commits crimes of this magnitude are mentally ill. Some people are just cold-blooded killers. As always this is my humble opinion, but James Holmes is one of them.

He will be sentenced, and after that hopefully the families of the deceased and the members of the Aurora community can move forward, however that may be. I wouldn’t care if I never heard the name “James Holmes” again.

Instead, I found the following link more interesting (despite the misspellings), one that discusses those who died at the hands of James Holmes.

Victims of Aurora theater shooting

Edited to add this after I published my initial post:

I am deeply disturbed about the recent case involving 28-year-old Sandra Bland, a woman who drove from Illinois to Texas to start a new job at Prairie A&M, was pulled over for improper signaling, was arrested for allegedly being combative with the police, and then was “found” hanging in a jail cell in Texas.

I put “found” in quotation marks because although this case is still fresh, the manner of alleged suicide has me super suspicious.

Not saying that Black women don’t commit suicide but when we do we typically don’t hang ourselves. And this young lady was planning ahead for her future. Nothing in her behavior leading up to this encounter with the Texas police suggests that she was on her way to suicide.

I’m praying for a resolution to this for that young lady and her family, and if I have come to the wrong conclusion that there was foul play here, God forgive me.

Sandra Bland alleged suicide in police custody

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