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Year 1, Week 13, Day 4

I have a brief observation for today’s reading of Leviticus 12.

Today’s reading continues explaining the matters of holy, common, clean, and unclean. These were matters that the priests were to concern themselves with for the sake of Israel: “You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean, and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the LORD has spoken to them by Moses.” (Leviticus 10:10-11). Leviticus 11-15 provides details in distinguishing this matter. Leviticus 11 began distinguishing matters of clean and unclean as it pertained to eating certain animals that we considered clean, while refraining from other animals because they were considered unclean. Leviticus 12 continues distinguishing the condition of clean and unclean as it pertains to childbirth.

What struck me in today’s reading is what the LORD was teaching Israel about Himself and living in relationship with Him by the emphasis upon clean and unclean: “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart,” (Psalm 24:3-4a). The LORD’s emphasis on clean and unclean, while framed as a matter of ritual purity, also provided a means for Israel to grasp the need for moral purity: “You shall therefore keep all my statutes and all my rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them…I am the LORD your God…You shall therefore separate the clean beast from the unclean, and the unclean bird from the clean. You shall not make yourselves detestable by beast or by bird or by anything with which the ground crawls, which I have set apart for you to hold unclean. You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.” (Leviticus 20:22-26). The LORD’s holiness was the standard for how Israel was to operate; they were to reflect His holiness before all the other nations, and therefore be different, specifically in terms of moral purity. However, the careful distinctions given to them concerning ritual purity was part of the means to learn and keep in front of them the standards of moral purity to which they were to conform.

Distinguishing between the holy and common as well as the clean and unclean, as it was laid out for Israel requires some additional considerations. First, I would suggest that the first distinction, that is between the holy and the common, was a distinction along the lines of status. Some, like the priests, were set apart to belong to the LORD with a special status. The priests were to be: “Holy to the LORD” (Exodus 39:30). Nevertheless, to be common was not a bad thing. In fact, all of Israel was to be holy in some sense: “you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5b-6a). So, the holy status that the priests were assigned is different in degree and not altogether in kind then the nation as a whole. All of Israel was to be holy before the LORD, but the common holiness that all of Israel shared was, nevertheless, was of different status than that to which the priesthood was assigned. 

Second, I would suggest that the other distinction, that is between the clean and unclean, was a distinction along the lines of condition. This distinction pertained to the priesthood as well as the people, and was the matter that comprised more details to sort out, for there were so many practical areas of life that intersected with being assessed with an unclean condition. It pertained to what could be eaten: “you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation…to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean and between the living creature that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten” (Leviticus 11:1-2,47). It pertained to the aftermath of childbirth: “The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If a woman conceives and bears a…child, then she shall be unclean…As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean…She shall not touch anything holy, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed.” (Leviticus 12:1-2,4).

These regulations probably seem very unusual to us, and therefore, reading about them and trying to understand their significance can easily be something that we misconstrue. It can also be hard to decipher the particular reasoning behind why something is labeled unclean rather than clean. Take, as an example, the unclean condition after childbirth. Bearing children is a blessed experience (Psalm 127:1) that is commanded by the LORD (Genesis 1:28). So why is a woman unclean after children? I would suggest that the discharge after birth rendered a woman unclean because the discharge of blood probably symbolized matters related to death. Matters pertaining to death were related to matters pertaining to sin. With the Holy Presence of the LORD in the midst of Israel, the Israelites would need to be continually and consciously aware of matters of sin. The condition of uncleanness was a means to keep vigilant on matters of sin. It would not be safe to enter the presence of the LORD with sin. But that is why the condition of uncleanness was dealt with through an atonement: “And when the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering, and he shall offer it before the LORD and make atonement for her. Then she shall be clean from the flow of her blood.” (Leviticus 12:6-7).

While life under the New Covenant is not oriented around ritual purity, it is still concerned with moral purity: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16). The blood of Jesus qualifies us for a life of purity: “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19,22).

What struck you in today’s reading? What questions were prompted from today’s reading?

Pastor Joe