Wednesday, March 30, 2011

VAYIKRA (LEV) 12:1 – 15:33
Leviticus 12 – Laws of Motherhood – (Cleansing After Childbirth)

A. Ceremonial impurity after giving birth.

1. (1-4) When a male child is born.

a. “If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days”: The child was then circumcised on the eighth day, with the ceremonial uncleanness lasting an additional 33 days, for a total of 40 days of ceremonial impurity after giving birth to a male child.

b. “She shall not touch any hallowed thing”: The commanded time of ceremonial impurity should not be regarded as a negative attitude towards birth or child-bearing on God's part. God commands child bearing, in that man is commanded to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28), children are regarded as a gift from God (Psalm 127:3), and a woman with many kids is considered blessed (Psalm 128:3).

i. The key to understanding this ceremony is to understand the idea of original sin. As wonderful as a new baby is, God wanted it to be remembered that with every birth another sinner was brought into the world, and the woman was here symbolically responsible for bringing a new sinner into the world.

ii. Perhaps just as importantly, the time of ceremonial impurity gave the new mother a time of rest and seclusion that would she no doubt welcomed.

2. (5) When a female child is born.

a. “If she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks”: The time period for each phase was double of that when giving birth to a son. For at the birth of a daughter, a woman was unclean for 14 days followed by 66 days.

b. “She shall continue in the blood of her purification sixty-six days”: The longer period of ceremonial uncleanness for the birth of a daughter should not be understood as a penalty. Instead, it is linked to the idea stated in the previous verses - that the time of impurity is for the symbolic responsibility of bringing other sinners into the world. When giving birth to a female, a mother brings a sinner into the world who will bring still other sinners into the world.

i. This may also suggest the longer period of time in connection with the birth of a girl was because girls are usually smaller at birth, and this would allow more time for the mother’s focused care and attention on the child. As well, since sons were more prized, the longer time at home for a mother with a new born girl would force the family to bond more deeply, over a more extended period of time with the new born girl.

B. The purification rite for cleansing after childbirth.

1. (6-7) The sacrifice required.

a. “Then he shall offer it before the LORD, and make atonement for her”: This was a fairly standard sacrifice for atonement, holding the woman symbolically responsible for bringing another sinner into this world. The required sacrifice was the same “for her who has borne a male or a female”.

2. (8) Allowances for the poor.

a. “If she is not able to bring a lamb”: God knew that not every family in Israel could afford to bring a lamb for sacrifice at the birth of a child. Therefore, He also allowed the lesser sacrifices of “two turtledoves or two young pigeons”.

i. Jesus’ family offered only a pair of turtledoves (Luke 2:22-24) at birth. This shows that Jesus did not come from a wealthy family.

Leviticus 13 - The Diagnosis of Leprosy

A. Instructions to the priests for diagnosing leprosy.

1. (1-8) The method of examination for leprosy.

a. “The priest shall examine the sore on the skin of the body”: In this sense, the priests served as public health officers and diagnosed the disease from this carefully defined criteria, not from intuition or guessing.

b. “If the hair on the sore has turned white, and the sore appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is a leprous sore”: The methodology in this passage erred on the side of safety. If a person could not be pronounced “clean” with certainty, they were then isolated until they could be pronounced clean.

i. These judgments were based on sound medical diagnosis and concern. They were made more with the idea of protecting the community from the outbreak of disease than with the idea of the rights of the individual.

ii. “The Hebrew priest-physicians appear to have been the first in the ancient world to isolate persons suspected of infectious or contagious diseases.”

iii. Illnesses such as smallpox, measles, and scarlet fever might start out with a skin condition considered to be leprosy - and the person would be isolated for the necessary time until the condition cleared up. This quarantine helped prevent the spread of these diseases among the people of Israel.

2. (9-44) Here we see more on the diagnosis of leprosy.

a. “And the priest shall examine him”: This section clearly shows the very specific rules for making a specific diagnosis of leprosy. The specific details given in so many different situations emphasize that God did not want this to be guesswork but the result of careful examination. Such a serious diagnosis should not be guessed.

b. “It is leprosy”: Leprosy was dealt with so seriously because it was such a horrible disease, and it was also a dramatic picture of sin and its spiritual operation in human beings.

i. We see when leprosy first appears on your skin, it begins as small, red spots. Before too long they get bigger, and start to turn white, with a shiny or scaly appearance. Pretty soon the spots spread over the entire body and the hair begins to fall out - first from the head, then even from the eyebrows. As things get worse, the finger nails and toenails become loose; they start to rot and eventually fall off. Then the joints of fingers and toes begin to rot and start to fall off piece by piece. The gums start shrinking and can’t hold teeth anymore, so each of them is lost. Leprosy keeps eating away at the face until the nose is literally lost, and the palate and even eyes rot - and the victim wastes away until death.

ii. Then we go on to see that Leprosy is like sin in many ways. There are some good reasons why many ancient rabbis considered a leper as someone already dead. Leprosy is like sin in that:

• It begins as nothing.
• It is painless in its first stages.
• It grows slowly.
• It often remits for a while and then returns.
• It numbs the senses - one cannot feel in the afflicted area.
• It causes decay and deformity.
• It gives a person a repulsive appearance.

iii. “These precautions were taken not merely for sanitary reasons, or to guard against contagion, for it is not certain that leprosy was contagious, but in order that the people might be taught through the parable of leprosy, what a fearful and loathsome thing sin is in the sight of God.”

iv. “Leprosy was indeed nothing short of a living death, a poisoning of the springs, a corrupting of all the humours of life; a dissolution little by little of the whole body, so that one limb after another actually decayed and fell away.”

3. (45-46) The result of leprosy.

a. “His clothes shall be torn and his head bare”: Once the diagnosis of leprosy was confirmed, everything changed for the leper. They lived in a perpetual state of mourning and in a perpetual state of public disgrace (“he shall . . . cry” “Unclean! Unclean!”). Furthermore, they lived in a perpetual state of isolation (“he shall dwell alone”).

b. “He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone”: As stringent as all this was, eventually the Jews went further. In the days of Jesus many Jews thought two things about a leper: You are the walking dead and you deserve this because this is the punishment of God against you.

i. Jewish custom said that you should not even greet a leper, and you had to stay six feet away from a leper. One Rabbi bragged that he would not even buy an egg on a street where he saw a leper, and another boasted that he threw rocks at lepers to keep them far from him. Rabbis didn’t even allow a leper to wash his face.

ii. But Jesus was different. He loved lepers; He touched them and healed them when they had no hope at all (Matthew 8:1-4 and Luke 17:11-19).

iii. As a note, because of modern drugs and treatments, leprosy is almost unknown in the western world - the United States’ only two leper colonies have been shut down. But worldwide there are some 15 million lepers, almost all of them in third-world nations.

4. (47-59) Leprosy in a garment.

a. “If a garment has a leprous plague in it”: In Old Testament times, the term leprosy had a broad definition and could include some forms of mold or fungi.

b. “The priest shall examine the plague”: The priests had to make careful determination to see if a garment might pass on a contagious disease or if it could still be used.

Leviticus 14 - Rituals on the Cleansing of a Leper

A. The sacrifice for a cleansed leper.

1. (1-9) The first seven days of the ritual.

a. “Then the priest shall command to take for him who is to be cleansed two living and clean birds”: In this cleansing ceremony, one bird was killed in an earthen vessel over running water, and its blood was applied to a living bird, to some cedar wood, to some scarlet fabric, and to some hyssop. Then, using these things, the blood was sprinkled on the one who was cleansed from leprosy. Then, the living bird was let go.

i. This seems to be a picture of Jesus’ death and its spiritual application; a “heavenly” being (as a bird is “of the heavens”) dies in an earthen vessel, while remaining clean (because of the running water). The death of the bird is associated with blood and water; the blood is connected with life (applied to the living bird), and then applied to the one cleansed.

ii. “Cedar wood”: Cedar is extremely resistant to disease and rot, and these qualities may be the reason for including it here - as well as a symbolic reference to the wood of the cross. Some even think the cross Jesus was crucified on was made of cedar.

iii. The connection with hyssop is also important. Jesus was offered drink from a hyssop branch on the cross (Matthew 27:48), and when David said purge me with hyssop in Psalm 51:7, he was admitted that he was as bad as a leper.

b. “He shall shave all the hair off his head and his beard and his eyebrows”: After the sacrificial ceremony with the birds, the cleansed leper had to wash their clothes and shave off all of their hair. They started all over again, as if they were a brand new baby.

i. Again, this seems to be an illustration of being “born again” - a completely new start.

2. (10-20) On the eighth day.

a. “On the eighth day he shall take two male lambs without blemish”: In completing the sacrifices for the cleansed leper, offerings were made on the eighth day and sacrificial blood was applied to the right ear, the right thumb, and the right big toe, to sanctify and consecrate the cleansed leper. This was the same way that the priest was consecrated.

b. “And of the rest of the oil in his hand, the priest shall put some on the tip of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed: On the eighth day, oil was also applied to the cleansed leper. It was both sprinkled on his body in general and then applied to the ear, thumb, and toe just as the blood was. Each of these places on the body was meant to be anointed with oil.

i. Therefore, in believe a cleansed leper had a special calling and a special anointing. One could not go through such a ritual as this and not be changed.

ii. Since leprosy is a picture of sin, we see how this ritual has spiritual application to ever sinner set free by Jesus.

iii. Since leprosy had no natural cure, it was certain that this ritual was rarely performed - and when it was performed at the command of Jesus (Luke 5:12-14), it must have been a great testimony to the priests at the temple.

3. (21-32) Provisions for the poor to fulfill the ritual for a cleansed leper.

B. Leprosy in a house.

1. (33-42) Diagnosis of leprosy in a house.

a. “It seems to me that there is some plague in the house”: Just as with the instructions regarding leprosy in garments in Leviticus 13, this uses a broad defining of leprosy that can include fungus and mold infestations. These instructions helped promote hygienic dwellings in Israel.

2. (43-53) Jesus specified cleansing the house infested with leprosy.

3. (54-57) Summation of the laws of leprosy.

This is the law for any leprous sore and scale, for the leprosy of a garment and of a house, for a swelling and a scab and a bright spot, to teach when it is unclean and when it is clean. This is the law of leprosy.

Leviticus 15 - Laws Concerning Bodily Discharges

A. Bodily discharges from a man.

1. (1-15) An abnormal bodily discharge.

a. “When any man has a discharge from his body, his discharge is unclean”: The 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.

b. “So the priest shall make atonement for him before the LORD because of his discharge”: After the discharge had stopped, a sacrifice had to be made.

2. (16-18) Normal bodily discharge.

a. “If any man has an emission of semen”: When a man discharged semen (either accidentally or in sex), he had to cleanse himself and respect a brief time of ceremonial impurity.

b. “They shall bathe in water, and be unclean until evening”: In the case of “an emission of semen”, both the man and his wife needed to ceremonially cleanse themselves and respect a brief time of ceremonial impurity.

B. Bodily discharges from a woman.

1. (19-24) Impurity during menstruation.

2. (25-30) Unusual or abnormal bodily discharge.

3. (31-33) Summation of the laws of bodily discharge.

a. “When they defile my tabernacle”: None of these discharges made a man or a woman sinful, only ceremonially unclean. This did promote hygiene in ancient Israel, yet discharges of semen and menstruation were so regarded, not because there was anything inherently wrong with them, but because the two are connected with symbols of life and redemption, “blood” and “seed”.

b. “My tabernacle that is among them”: This made an obvious separation between sex and the worship of God. To the modern world this seems normal, but in the ancient world it was common to worship the gods by having sex with temple prostitutes. God did not want this association in His worship.

i. I believe it is important for us to regard these laws of cleanliness in a New Testament perspective. In Mark 7:1-9 Jesus criticized the Pharisees for their over-emphasis on ceremonial cleanliness and their lack of regard for internal cleanliness. These laws were meant to have both hygienic reasons and spiritual applications; they were never intended as the way to be right with God.

ii. As seem in Acts 15, the early Christian community properly discerned the work and will of God in the New Covenant: that under the New Covenant, the believer was not bound to these laws of ritual purity. One could be a follower of Jesus without the ritual conformity to the Mosaic Law.

iii. Yet we need to remember that spiritual cleanliness in worship is important today. We also remember that Jesus is the One who makes us clean and fit for fellowship: You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you (John 15:3). As we receive from the Word of God, we are being cleansed.

iv. Our cleanliness is complete as we abide in Jesus: 1 John 1:7-9 “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”.

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