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Verses 1-33


Leviticus 15:1-33

INASMUCH as the law concerning defilement from issues is presupposed and referred to in that concerning the defilement of child bearing, in chapter 12, it will be well to consider this before the latter. For this order there is the more reason, because, as will appear, although the two sections are separated, in the present arrangement of the book, by the law concerning defilement by leprosy (Leviticus 13:1-59; Leviticus 14:1-57), they both refer to the same general topic, and are based upon the same moral conceptions.

The arrangement of the law in Leviticus 15:1-33 is very simple. Leviticus 15:2-18 deal with the cases of ceremonial defilement by issues in men; Leviticus 15:19-30, with analogous cases in women. The principle in both classes is one and the same; the issue, whether normal or abnormal, rendered the person affected unclean; only, when abnormal, the defilement was regarded as more serious than in other cases, not only in a physical, but also in a ceremonial and legal aspect. In all such cases, in addition to the washing with water which was always required, it was commanded that on the eighth day from the time of the cessation of the issue, the person who had been so affected should come before the priest and present for his cleansing a sin offering and a burnt offering.

What now is the principle which underlies these regulations?

In seeking the answer to this question, we at once note the suggestive fact that this law concerning issues takes cognisance only of such as are connected with the sexual organisation. All others, however, in themselves, from a merely physical point of view, equally unwholesome or loathsome, are outside the purview of the Mosaic code. They do not render the person affected, according to the law, ceremonially unclean. It is therefore evident that the lawgiver must have had before him something other than merely the physical peculiarities of these defilements, and that, for the true meaning of this part of the law, we must look deeper than the surface. It should also be observed here that this characteristic of the law just mentioned, places the law of issues under the same general category with the law (chapter 12) concerning the uncleanness of child bearing, as indeed the latter itself intimates. {; Leviticus 12:2} The question thus arises: Why are these particular cases, and such as these only, regarded as ceremonially defiling?

To see the reason of this, we must recur to facts which have already come before us. When our first parents sinned, death was denounced against them as the penalty of their sin. Such had been the threat: "In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt die." The death denounced indeed affected the whole being, the spiritual as well as the physical nature of man; but it comprehended the death of the body, which thus became, what it still is, the most impressive manifestation of the presence of sin in every person who dies. Hence, as we have seen, the law kept this connection between sin and death steadily before the mind, in that it constantly applied the principle that the dead defiles. Not only so, but, for this reason, such things as tended to bring death were also reckoned unclean; and thus the regulations of the law concerning clean and unclean meats, while strictly hygienic in character, were yet grounded in this profound ethical fact of the connection between sin and death; had man not sinned, nothing in the world had been able to bring in death, and all things had been clean. For the same reason, again, leprosy, as exemplifying in a vivid and terrible way disease as a progressive death, a living manifestation of the presence of the curse of God, and therefore of the presence of sin, a type of all disease, was regarded as involving ceremonial defilement and therefore as requiring sacrificial cleansing.

But in the curse denounced upon our first parents was yet more. It was specially taught that the curse should affect the generative power of the race. For we read: {Genesis 3:16} "Unto the woman He said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children." Whatever these words may precisely mean, it is plain that they are intended to teach that, because of sin, the curse of God fell in some mysterious way upon the sexual organisation. And although the woman only is specifically mentioned, as being "first in the transgression," that the curse fell also upon the same part of man’s nature is plain from the words in Genesis 5:3, where the long mortuary record of the antediluvians is introduced by the profoundly significant statement that Adam began the long line, with its inheritance of death, by begetting a son "in his own likeness, after his image." Fallen himself under the curse of death, physical and spiritual, he therewith lost the capacity to beget a creature like himself in his original state, in the image of God, and could only be the means of bringing into the world a creature who was an inheritor of physical weakness and spiritual and bodily death.

In the light of this ancient record, which must have been before the mind of the Hebrew lawgiver, we can now see why the law concerning unclean issues should have had special relation to that part of man’s physical organisation which has to do with the propagation of the race. Just as death defiled, because it was a visible representation of the presence of the curse of God, and thus of sin, as the ground of the curse, even so was it with all the issues specified in this law. They were regarded as making a man unclean, because they were manifestations of the curse in a part of man’s nature which, according to the Word of God, sin has specially affected. For this reason they fell under the same law as death. They separated the person thus affected from the congregation, and excluded him from the public worship of a holy God, as making him "unclean."

It is impossible now to miss the spiritual meaning of these laws concerning issues of this class. In that these alone, out of many others, which from a merely physical point of view are equally offensive, were taken under the cognisance of this law, the fact was thereby symbolically emphasised that the fountain of life in man is defiled. To be a sinner were bad enough, if it only involved the voluntary and habitual practice of sin. But this law of issues testifies to us, even now, that, as God sees man’s case, it is far worse than this. The evil of sin is so deeply seated that it could lie no deeper. The curse has in such manner fallen on our being, as that in man and woman the powers and faculties which concern the propagation of their kind have fallen under the blight. All that any son of Adam can now do is to beget a son in his own physical and moral image, an heir of death, and by nature unclean and unholy. Sufficiently distasteful this truth is in all ages; but in none perhaps ever more so than our own, in which it has become a fundamental postulate of much popular theology, and of popular politics as well, that man is naturally not bad, but good, and, on the whole, is doing as well as under the law of evolution, and considering his environment, can reasonably be expected. The spiritual principle which underlies the law concerning defilement by issues, as also that concerning the uncleanness of child bearing, assumes the exact opposite.

It is indeed true that similar causes of ceremonial uncleanness have been recognised in ancient and in modern times among many other peoples. But this is no objection to the truth of the interpretation of the Mosaic law here given. For in so far as there is genuine agreement, the fact may rather confirm than weaken the argument for this view of the case, as showing that there is an ineradicable instinct in the heart of man which connects all that directly or indirectly has to do with the continuance of our race, in a peculiar degree, with the ideas of uncleanness and shame. And, on the other hand, the differences in such cases from the Mosaic law show us just what we should expect, -a degree of moral confusion and a deadening of the moral sense among the heathen nations, which is most significant. As has been justly remarked, the Hindoo has one law on this subject for the Brahman, another for others; the outcast for some deadly sin, often of a purely frivolous nature, and a newborn child, are reckoned equally unclean. Or, -to take the case of a people contemporary with the Hebrews, -among the ancient Chaldeans, while these same issues were accounted ceremonially defiling, as in the law of Moses, with these were also reckoned in the same category, as unclean, whatsoever was separated from the body, even to the cuttings of the hair and the parings of the nails. Evidently, we thus have here, not likeness, but a profound and most suggestive moral contrast between the Chaldean and the Hebrew law. Of the profound ethical truth which vitalises and gives deep significance to the law of Moses, we find no trace in the other system. And it is no wonder if, indeed, the one law is, as declared, a revelation from the holy God, and the other the work of sinful and sin blinded man.

It is another moral lesson which is brought before us in these laws that, as God looks at the matter, sin pertains not only to action, but also to being. Not only actions, from which we can abstain, but operations of nature which we cannot help, alike defile; defile in such a manner and degree as to require, even as voluntary acts of sin, the cleansing of water, and the expiatory blood of a sin offering. One could not avoid many of the defilements mentioned in this chapter, but that made no difference; he was unclean. For the lesser grades of uncleanness it sufficed that one be purified by washing with water; and a sin offering was only required when this purification had been neglected; but in all cases where the defilement assumed its extreme form, the sin offering and the burnt offering must be brought, and be offered for the unclean person by the priest. So is it, we are taught, with that sin of nature which these cases symbolised; we cannot help it, and yet the washing of regeneration and the cleansing of the blood of Christ is required for its removal. Very impressive in its teaching now becomes the miracle in which our Lord healed the poor woman afflicted with the issue of blood, {; Mark 5:25-34} for which she had vainly sought cure. It was a case like that covered by the law in Leviticus 15:25-27; and he who will read and consider the provisions of that law will understand, as otherwise he could not, how great her trial and how heavy her burden must have been. He will wonder also, as never before, at the boldness of her faith, who, although, according to the law, her touch should defile the Lord, yet ventured to believe that not only should this not be so, but that the healing power which went forth from Him should neutralise the defilement, and carry healing virtue to the very centre of her life. Thus, if other miracles represent our Lord as meeting the evil of sin in its various manifestations in action, this miracle represents His healing power as reaching to the very source and fountain of life, where it is needed no less.

The law concerning the removal of these defilements, after all that has preceded, will admit only of one interpretation. The washing of water is the uniform symbol of the cleansing of the soul from pollution by the power of the Holy Ghost; the sacrifices point to the sacrifice of Christ, in its twofold aspect as burnt offering and sin offering, as required by and availing for the removal of the sinful defilement which, in the mind of God, attaches even to that in human nature which is not under the control of the will. At the same time, whereas in all these cases the sin offering prescribed is the smallest known to the law, it is symbolised, in full accord with the teaching of conscience, that the gravity of the defilement, where there has not been the active concurrence of the will, is less than where the will has seconded nature. In all cases of prolonged defilement from these sources, it was required that the affected person should still be regarded as unclean for seven days after the cessation of the infirmity, and on the eighth day came the sacrificial cleansing. The significance of the seven as the covenant number, the number also wherein was completed the old creation, has been already before us: that of "the eighth" will best be considered in connection with the provisions of chapter 12, to which we next turn our attention.

The law of this chapter has a formal closing, in which are used these words (Leviticus 15:31): "Thus shall ye separate the children of Israel from their uncleanness; that they die not in their uncleanness, when they defile My tabernacle that is in the midst of them."

Of which the natural meaning is this, that the defilements mentioned, as conspicuous signs of man’s fallen condition, were so offensive before a holy God, as apart from these purifications to have called down the judgment of death on those in whom they were found. In these words lies also the deeper spiritual thought-if we have rightly apprehended the symbolic import of these regulations-that not only, as in former cases mentioned under the law of offerings, do voluntary acts of sin separate from God and if unatoned for call down His judgment, but that even our infirmities and the involuntary motions of sin in our nature have the same effect, and, apart from the cleansing of the Holy Spirit and the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, ensure the final judgment of death.

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