By Joshua Cooley
Context is crucial whenever we read God’s Word.
Perhaps never more so than when we read the book of Leviticus, and especially passages like today’s text, which addresses sensitive topics that often produce snickering in middle school sex-ed classes and awkward moments of silence during parent “birds and the bees” conversations. Leviticus 14 and 15 discuss cleansing rituals for lepers, a blighted house, and people who experience bodily discharge.
So yes, a healthy dose of context is in order! On the whole, Leviticus points to God’s holiness, our spiritual uncleanness, and our desperate need for an atoning sacrifice. So it’s helpful to view seemingly archaic passages like Leviticus 14–15 through a telescopic lens and keep the following in mind: Starting with the old covenant, God has graciously provided cleansing to gradually renew a broken world and reconcile an unclean people to Himself.
Because of the fall, sin has tainted everything in God’s good creation. Yet the Old Testament law did not always blame a particular individual’s sin for everything common or unclean that needed cleansing.
Take lepers, for instance. Having this disease in biblical times was certainly lamentable for health and social reasons. Lepers had to live outside the covenant community and announce themselves with shouts of “Unclean!” However, leprosy was not God’s judgment on the afflicted, but rather, simply the result of living in a fallen world.
Likewise, a house with blighted walls didn’t mean its residents were any more wicked than their next-door neighbor with the sparkly plaster interior that was the envy of the village. Mold and mildew were both health hazards and earthly reminders that purification was needed to approach a transcendent God who dwells in holiness.
And yes, there were also lessons to be learned from normal bodily discharge. While male sexual emissions and female menstruation are normal parts of human reproduction, these bodily functions made the individuals ceremonially unclean. Perhaps one reason for this is that these incidents juxtaposed the “commonness” of the created against the “set-apartness” of the Creator.
Various offerings provided a temporary bridge between the common and the holy. But these sacrifices were merely a provisional solution until the final mediator between God and humanity arrived, when Jesus bridged the gap!
Consider what happened in Matthew 9:20–22 with a woman who had been suffering unnatural bleeding for twelve years. Under the law, she was perpetually unclean (Leviticus 15:25). Anyone who touched her was also considered unclean (v.27). But when the woman saw Jesus in a crowd, she touched His robe in faith, trusting in His healing power. Jesus exclaimed, “Have courage, daughter….Your faith has saved you” (Matthew 9:22). Immediately, her bleeding stopped.
As the originator and fulfillment of the law, the eternal God transcended Levitical restrictions to bring healing, hope and atonement. Jesus is the once-for-all sacrifice who purifies both our common bodies and unclean hearts. Praise the Lord!
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