LEVITICUS 14 and 15
Yesterday’s readings talked about the diagnosis of infectious skin diseases and their treatment. Today follows on to outline the purification rites when the individual was declared ‘clean’ again. There were regulations for cleansing in the first week – outside the camp; and regulations for cleansing in the second week – inside the camp. Also, there were special dispensations for those too poor to afford all the animal sacrifices they had to bring.
Similar regulations were set in place for fabrics and entire buildings that had previously been contaminated by mould. The combination of bird’s blood, a live bird, cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet yarn were clearly a potent combination for cleansing. The hyssop plant with its brush-like branches was good for sprinkling and ‘painting’ liquids onto the objects to be cleansed. It is interesting that King David, in Psalm 51:7 says: “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean” when confessing his sin of adultery to the Lord. Whilst these Old Covenant rituals had no real effect on the heart and conscience of the sinner, and they did not genuinely earn legal forgiveness from God, yet they foreshadowed a greater sacrifice that would be all-sufficient for all time, after which no further sacrifice for sin would ever be required again. “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:11-14.)
The following chapter is all about bodily discharges! These included everything from a violent stomach upset to normal sexual activity. There is no suggestion that any of this is sinful – and in any case it is all involuntary – but there were still certain ritual cleansings to be undertaken for the remainder of the day. The rituals included hand washing and bathing – things revolutionary in their day – that have a good basis in hygiene even now. It is also interesting that a woman’s monthly period made her unclean for the same duration afterwards, and her ritual cleansing ended at just the point at which she would be at maximum fertility in her monthly cycle; very useful if you wished a population to grow quickly!
Adherence to these regulations ensured that God’s holiness was reinforced in the eyes of Israel, and that they were shielded from many of the diseases that ravaged those nations around them. See Exodus 15:26. Some of these regulations must have made sense to the people, and other regulations were incomprehensible, yet the wholehearted obedience to all that the Lord commanded was the basis of a healthy nation and a healthy relationship with God.