Leviticus: Things My Dad Taught Me Never to Talk About in Public

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on May 4, 2005

Leviticus 15:1-33

Wednesday Evening

May 4, 2005

Leviticus 15:1-33

“Things My Dad Taught Me Never to Talk About in Public”

Dr. J. Ligon
Duncan III

Amen. If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with
me to Leviticus 15. This is again one of the passages in the midst of the
holiness code in Leviticus in which God is explaining to the children of Israel
how He wants them to keep themselves pure and separate from the nations around
them, and how He wants them to be clean before they come into His presence to
worship; and if you have already glanced at this passage tonight or this week,
you will have noted that again that it speaks about some very uncomfortably
intimate and personal aspects of our bodies and our selves.

And I want to remind you, as we prepare to hear
God’s word read, as uncomfortable as it may be to hear these things spoken of
out loud even in the course of conversation, much less read in the gathering of
the people of God, this does remind us that God lays claim with regard to His
standards and His concerns for holiness on absolutely every area of life, even
areas that we are uncomfortable talking about with one another (and sometimes
appropriately so, talking about with one another). He is ready to stamp His
assertion on that: ‘That aspect of your life belongs to Me, and that aspect of
your life matters to Me, and what you do in that aspect of your life impinges
not only upon your own personal holiness and your own readiness to come into My
presence, but it impinges upon the life of the whole congregation.’

Derek has expounded for us before from the
teaching in God’s word about the sin of Achan, and how the sin of one man
infected the entire congregation. This passage tonight will remind us that even
as uncleanness is a contagion that can be contracted by the people of God, that
ultimately that is a picture of sin, which is a contagion and can permeate the
life of the people of God in a community and compromise not only their witness
but their ability to enjoy communion with the living God.

And so, as we read some of this material, as
uncomfortable as it may be, let us remember how God lays claim on every aspect
of our lives, and is concerned about every aspect of our life and the wholeness
of our person as we come before Him, as we live for Him.

This is timely, because we live in a day and age
where our generation has become practiced in living parallel lives: an interior
life and an exterior life that do not match. In our generation, we have turned
denial into a science–the capacity to live one way in our private and personal
world, and another way in our public world, and appear to be good, kind, upright
people, while in fact living a very different life in our private world.

This has come home to some of us just in the last
few months, as a very respected health professional in our community who has
helped thousands through his physical skill was revealed in his personal life to
be engaged in abominations of the most atrocious nature. And that disjunction
between the public and the personal has been unfortunately on display in the
very highest office of our land in the last decade, and it is something that
rips the fabric of community and society apart; and God speaks to that in this
passage as He speaks of areas which are of the most personal nature being a
matter of concern to Him with regard to our coming before the living God in
worship. So let’s bear that in mind as we read through this rather uncomfortable
passage.

And before we read it and before we pray, let me
outline it for you to help you work through this passage as, again, these
chapters of Leviticus are fairly long and they can be a challenge to listen
to…not just because of their content, but because of their length and their
intricacy.

This chapter divides up into three parts.
After the introduction, which is in verse 1, the first part of the chapter is
found in verses 2-18, and this deals with male bodily discharges. Then, the
second half of the chapter, beginning in verse 19 and running all the way down
to verse 30, deals with female bodily discharges. And then the third part of the
chapter is found in verses 31-33, where we are told the purpose of God’s giving
these rather strange sets of laws and we are given a summary of the moral
principles entailed in them. So there are three parts: Male bodily
discharges; Female bodily discharges; and then, finally, the Purpose of the Law
and a Summary of it.

Now, let me walk through, again before we read
the passage, the four parts of each of the first two parts of the chapter.

In both the passage pertaining to men and the passage pertaining to women, there
are four sub-sections in each. They’re reversed slightly in order, but here’s
how they go. In the passage, verses 2-18, pertaining to men, verses 2-12 deal
with long-term illness that are productive of these bodily discharges or
emissions. Perhaps even some of these emissions are due to inappropriate sexual
behavior.

Then, verses 13-15 deal with the
cleansing sacrifice that God has appointed to be offered on behalf of the man
who has had these kinds of emissions before he is restored to the worship at the
tabernacle.

Then, in verses 16 and 17 we see
a reference to temporary bodily emissions occurring in men; and then, finally,
in verse 18 he speaks of emissions in relation to physical intercourse.

Now, we see those same
categories, but in a slightly different order, in relation to women. There are,
first of all, in verses 19 all the way down to verse 23, instructions relating
to emissions from a woman’s body in relation to her normal feminine cycle.

Then in verse 24, again emissions
in relation to physical intercourse. Then in verses 25 to 27, issues that relate
to long-term illnesses. Now, bear this one in mind especially, because there is
more than one passage in the New Testament that relates directly to this
particular point from the chapter, and we’re going to look at one of those in
the Gospel of Mark.

And then finally, again in the
case of the woman, verses 28-30, the cleansing sacrifice that is appointed in
order for her to be introduced back into the worship of the living God in the
tabernacle.

And so we have these four parts
in each of those two major parts. That gives you something of an outline of this
passage. Now let’s pray and ask for God’s help.

Lord, this is Your word. And
as uncomfortable as it is for us to hear these words uttered, we acknowledge
that these come from Your word, and so we know that they are given for our
instruction and that they are inspired by Your Spirit, and they are profitable
for our edification and correction in living the Christian life. So we pray, O
God, in our discomfort edify us. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hear God’s word.

“The Lord also spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying …”

[now comes
the section on male emissions]

“… ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, and say to them, ‘When any man has a
discharge from his body, his discharge is unclean. This, moreover, shall be his
uncleanness in his discharge: it is his uncleanness whether his body allows its
discharge to flow, or whether his body obstructs its discharge. Every bed on
which the person with the discharge lies becomes unclean, and everything on
which he sits becomes unclean. Anyone, moreover, who touches his bed shall wash
his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening; and whoever sits on
the thing on which the man with the discharge has been sitting, shall wash his
clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. Also whoever touches
the person with the discharge shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be
unclean until evening. Or if the man with the discharge spits on one who is
clean, he too shall wash h is clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until
evening. And every saddle on which the person with the discharge rides becomes
unclean. Whoever then touches any of the things which were under him shall be
unclean until evening, and he who carried them shall wash his clothes and bathe
in water and be unclean until evening. However, an earthenware vessel which the
person with the discharge touches shall be broken, and every wooden vessel shall
be rinsed in water.’”

[Now we come to
the section that deals with the sacrifice.]

“ ‘Now when the man with the discharge becomes cleansed from his discharge, then
he shall count off for himself seven days for his cleansing; he shall then wash
his clothes and bathe his body in running water and shall become clean. Then on
the eighth day he shall take for himself two turtledoves or two young pigeons,
and come before the Lord to the doorway of the tent of meeting, and give them to
the priest; and the priest shall offer them, one for a sin offering, and the
other for a burnt offering. So the priest shall make atonement on his behalf
before the Lord because of his discharge.’”

[Then we come to
the reference to temporary emissions.]

“Now if a man has a seminal emission, he shall bathe all his body in water and
be unclean until evening. As for any garment or any leather on which there is
seminal emission, it shall be washed with water and be unclean until evening.’”

[And then this
verse, verse 18, pertains to physical intercourse.]

“‘If a man lies with a woman so that there is a seminal emission, they shall
both bathe in water and be unclean until evening.’”

[Now in verse 19
we move to the section that pertains to women.]

“‘When a woman has a discharge, if her discharge in her body is blood, she shall
continue in her menstrual impurity for seven days; and whoever touches her shall
be unclean until evening. Everything also on which she lies during her menstrual
impurity shall be unclean, and everything on which she sits shall be unclean.
And anyone who touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be
unclean until evening. And whoever touches any thing on which she sits shall
wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. Whether it be
on the bed or on the thing on which she is sitting, when he touches it, he shall
be unclean until evening.’”

[Then verse 24
again pertains to physical intercourse.]

“‘If a man actually lies with her, so that her menstrual impurity is on him, she
shall be unclean seven days, and every bed on which he lies shall be unclean.’”

[Then, in verse
25, references to long-term illnesses and emissions.]

“ ‘Now if a woman has a discharge of her blood many days, not at the period of
her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond that period, all the
days of her impure discharge she shall continue as though in her menstrual
impurity; she is unclean. Any bed on which she lies all the days of her
discharge shall be to her like her bed at menstruation; and every thing on which
she sits shall be unclean, like her uncleanness at that time. Likewise, whoever
touches them shall be unclean and shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and
be unclean until evening. Then when she becomes clean from her discharge, she
shall count off for herself seven days; and afterward she shall be clean.’”

“‘Then on the eighth day she shall take for herself two turtledoves or two
young pigeons, and bring them in to the priest, to the doorway

[This is
beginning the section on the cleansing sacrifice.]

of the tent of meeting. And the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering
and the other for a burnt offering. So the priest shall make atonement on her
behalf before the Lord because of her impure discharge.’”

[Now, finally, the purpose of this law and a summary statement, beginning at
verse 31.]

“‘Thus you shall keep the sons of Israel separated from their uncleanness, lest
they die in their uncleanness by their defiling My tabernacle that is among
them.’ This is the law for the one with a discharge, and for the man who has a
seminal emission so that he is unclean by it, and for the woman who is ill
because of menstrual impurity, and for the one who has a discharge, whether a
male or a female, or a man who lies with an unclean woman.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading
of God’s holy, inspired and inerrant word. May He add His blessing to it.

Now, what are we to do with a passage
like this? Somewhat baffling….it makes sense to us that if a person has some
sort of a bodily discharge that indicates an illness, that makes sense–why there
would be ceremonially uncleanness declared–but why emissions in relation to our
sexual organs or activities, even within the bonds of marriage?

Well, I want to suggest to you
tonight at least five things that we learn from this passage,
some of which
go some way in explaining why God would make these particular standards in
regard to cleanness and uncleanness in relation both to illness and to our
sexual organs and activities.

I. What this teaches us about
holiness.

The first thing I want to point out to you about
this passage is what it teaches us regarding our understanding of holiness.
Throughout this whole holiness code we have seen how physical cleanness, or
the ritual state of being declared clean, is related to physical wholeness and
health. Anything that is seen to reckon a person less than physically whole, any
physical condition which is one of weakness or personal danger, this kind of
physical condition renders the person unclean.

Throughout this holiness code we have seen this
and it reminds us, doesn’t it, of the high standard of perfection? If God’s
people can only dwell with Him because of His holiness, in their own personal
holiness; if holiness is a condition of their communion with Him in worship; if
before they come into the tabernacle they are to be holy, and even physical
uncleanness and physical weakness and physical illness, and physical
imperfection bar the way to the enjoyment of that communion, doesn’t that speak
of the comprehensive demands that God has for holiness?

You know, more and more today,
even in the evangelical church, there are people who are saying ‘This thing
about a perfect sacrifice being required…oh, this is the figment of legalistic
Western imagination! God grades on the curve, He’s not looking for perfection in
order to fellowship with Him! He’s looking for faithfulness, and you can mess
up a little bit along the way, but as long as you’re faithful you can come into
His presence.’

But the Book of Leviticus would
point in the exact opposite direction. Faithfulness is not enough; wholeness,
holiness, even in our physical aspect, was required for ongoing communion with
God, and so the first thing that we learn from this chapter is something that
we’ve been learning all along since Leviticus 11, and that is God’s standard of
holiness is high, deep, and comprehensive. He wants a holiness for communion
with Him that entails the holiness of our whole person, our physical as well as
the spiritual aspect of our being.

This reminds us why we need the
perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ in order to be clothed with His righteousness
and cleansed by His life, and ultimately glorified and made perfect.

Isn’t it interesting that in
God’s plan of redemption, what does He do? He redeems us from the penalty of
sin, and then from the power of sin, and finally from the presence of sin:
justification, sanctification, glorification.

Why does He do this? So that we
can commune with Him forever. It is not enough for Him to forgive our sin. That
sin’s power over us must be broken, and so He justifies and sanctifies.
But it is not enough to break the dominion of sin; sin must be removed
altogether from us. It never happens in this life, but in glorification the
presence of sin is removed. Why? So that every barrier into communion with God
is removed, and Leviticus reminds us of that very principle: that communion with
God is something that entails holiness.

II. The importance of personal
care in approaching God.

Secondly, we learn from this passage the
importance of personal care in approaching God. Ever since we started reading
the ritual or ceremonial laws in the Book of Exodus about worship, we have seen
the principle stated over and over that you’d better be careful when you come
into the presence of the living God. How is it that Steve Brown used to put
it? “You don’t come tap-dancing into the throne room of God.” Well, that
message is said all over the Book of Leviticus. It’s a very careful thing to
come into the presence of God, and the major concern in this passage is to honor
the holiness of God by making sure that you as a worshiper have been separated
from any kind of uncleanness which would cause you to be unclean, and thus
defiled when you are walking into the presence of God and must come under His
curse.

Look at verse 31. This is the
explanation of the whole passage: “You shall keep the sons of Israel separated
from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by their defiling My
tabernacle that is among them.” In other words, someone becomes ceremonially
unclean because of contact with someone who is ceremonially unclean, and still
goes into the presence of God in the tabernacle, and God visits His judgment
upon that person. And in this passage that judgment is put in the most striking
way: “…lest they die in their uncleanness.” This passage reminds us, doesn’t
it, about our personal care in approaching God?

Uncleanness is seen as contagious. It compromises
the ability of certain people who have come into its contact to come into the
presence of the living God, and that uncleanness points us to sin.

Now, we may say to ourselves, ‘But this
is Old Testament teaching, this isn’t anything that has to do with new covenant
believers.’

Oh, no?
Oh, no? I seem to remember a case in the Book of I Corinthians relating to the
Lord’s Supper, where people have come to the Lord’s table in the new covenant
community in the city of Corinth, and they have come unworthily, not discerning
the body. And what does the Apostle Paul say has happened to them? Some are
sick, and some have died. It is an awesome thing to come into the presence of
the living God.

And this passage again reminds us of the
personal care which we must take in approaching God. I think it’s fair to say
that if there is any tendency in the evangelical churches–and I’m not talking
about the “bad” churches, I’m talking about the “good” churches, the churches
that believe the Bible, that believe the gospel, that believe in the Lord Jesus
Christ and all the panoply of teaching that the Bible brings to bear about His
person and His work–that in those churches today there is a certain casualness
about the approach of the living God. There is a certain flippancy in
approaching the living God, and this passage is reminding us again about our
personal care in approaching the living God.

III. Our personal morality in
relation to others is important to God.

The third thing that we learn in
this passage is our personal morality in relation to others is important to God.
Now where do I get that from this passage? Well, think about it. Though these
laws would have even have impinged upon a husband and a wife in terms of how
they related to one another, these laws would have especially promoted morality
through restraint and care in regards to contact between unmarried persons of
the opposite sex.

When you think about these codes,
especially in relation to the feminine cycle, because girls in this culture
would have gotten married so early and because of the desire to have large
families, these purity laws with regard to the feminine cycle would have
primarily have had an impact not upon married women (because more often than not
they would be in the process of having children, and so particular instructions
here would not pertain to them during that particular season of life), but these
laws would have pertained to young unmarried women and would have therefore
required those young unmarried women’s families to take especial care about her
contact with other people; and they would have pertained to young unmarried men,
and their families would have had to have taken very great care about their
contact with unmarried women, lest they become ritually impure. And that ritual
requirement would have promoted morality through restraint and care in terms of
the contact between unmarried members of the opposite sex.

Of course, it would have also
have served to fully ostracize prostitutes from the community. No prostitute
could get anywhere near the temple of God, the tabernacle of God, under this
code. They would have been entirely excluded, and so it served to promote
sexual purity in the whole community…these laws did.

I think it’s interesting, isn’t
it? And that’s something that we need to think long and hard about in our own
day. I think that we think that we can throw our young people into every
possible situation and just expect them to come up bobbing fine. They’ll rise to
the top, they’ll get through it. We put them in every possible compromising
position and expect them to get through it. Isn’t it interesting that these
kinds of laws would have limited the amount of time that unmarried people would
have been able to have been in regular social contact with one another, and thus
limited the opportunities for sexual infidelity and impurity–it’s very
interesting, isn’t it?

Clearly, these laws served to promote sexual
morality in the community, and personal morality in relation to others.

IV. This teaches us something
about worship.

Fourthly, however, this passage
teaches us something about worship; not only about holiness, not only about
carefulness in approaching God; not only about personal sexual morality, but
this passage teaches us something about worship. Israel’s neighbors, as
you know, often viewed sexual activity with temple prostitutes as part and
parcel of the worship of their gods. We’re warned about this all through the Old
Testament as God’s prophets tell the children of Israel not to be like their
pagan Canaanite neighbors who engage in ritual sexual orgies as part of the
worship of their gods.

Isn’t it interesting that in
total
contrast to this that God says that even legitimate bodily emissions,
as well as bodily discharges relating to illness, disbar you from the tabernacle
until you have been ritually cleansed? It utter contrast to the fertility
religions around Israel which incorporate sexual activity, God sees even this
legitimate and good sexual activity within marriage as impinging upon both the
man and the woman’s ability to come into the presence of God.

Notice how, just as when we saw
in the food laws, God set up a social barrier that would do what? Keep Israel
from mixing with her pagan neighbors
. Once again, if Israel keeps this
law, there’s no way that she can worship with her pagan neighbors because
they’re violating this law left and right in their worship!
And so it drives
a wedge between God’s people and world.

Isn’t God wise in the way He sets up these commands?

But don’t we learn from this also
that even though some of these things mentioned in the passage pertain to things
which are good and right and holy in the bonds of marriage, yet there are some
things which are good and right and appropriate in the bonds of marriage which
are utterly inappropriate in the worship of the living God? And that reminds us
as we worship the living God that we are to take care to do only what He tells
us to do, because there are many good things to do in life that are not good to
do in His worship, and we see that principle here in Leviticus 15.

V. What we learn about Jesus.

And there’s one last thing that I
want to bring to your attention, and that is our powerful Savior, because the
New Testament has a direct application of this very passage. Turn with me to
Mark, chapter five. Derek has walked us through this passage before in his
wonderful study of the Gospel of Mark, and so I only want to hit a couple of
highlights. This is a passage in which Mark is displaying some of the
phenomenal, the miraculous healing powers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

You’ll remember that in Mark
5:21, Jesus has just cast the demons out of the Gerasene (or Gadarene) demoniac,
and now He’s crossed over to the other side; and an synagogue official has come
to Him to tell Him that his daughter is dying, and so Jesus is on the way to
take care of that synagogue official’s daughter. And we read in verse 25:

“A woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years…” (now this falls into the
category of verses 25 to 27 of Leviticus 15…this was a woman with a long-term
discharge) “…and had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had
spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse,
after hearing about Jesus, came up in the crowd behind Him and touched His
cloak
.”

Now, having read Leviticus 15, my friends, you understand the significance of
what she’s just done. Any ordinary person has just become unclean by the very
touch of that woman; and furthermore, that woman wouldn’t have dared to touch
any ordinary person because it would have been directly and explicitly against
the law of her God–and look what happens:

“For she thought, ‘If I just touch His garments, I shall get well.’ And
immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that
she was healed of her affliction. And immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself
that the power proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd
and said, ‘Who touched My garments?’ And His disciples said to Him, ‘You see
the multitude pressing in on You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’ And He looked
around to see the woman who had done this. But the woman fearing and trembling,
aware of what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him…” [she
prostrates herself before Him in the manner of worship, you see] “…and she
[tells] Him the whole truth. And He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made
you well; go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.’”

Now, in the old covenant that uncleanness was a contagion. It could be
contracted in the community and disbar them from the presence of God. Even so,
here we see Jesus’ own holiness and righteousness as a contagion; but this woman
did not contract it by the touching of His garment…no. Jesus draws attention
to how she received that healing: through faith.

You see, Jesus is not saying that it is her
faith which has caused her to be healed. He is saying that it is her faith, not
the touch of His garment, not some magic power residing in His garment, but her
faith in Him, in His person, in His power. Her faith is the instrument whereby
she has been cleansed and healed. It’s a reminder to us, isn’t it, that if we
are to be declared right with God the only way is through faith in Jesus? And
Leviticus 15 teaches us that, too.

Let’s look to God in prayer.

O Lord, thank You for this hard passage. Use
it for Your glory in our lives, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Would you stand for God’s blessing.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the
Father and our Lord Jesus, the Messiah. Amen.

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