My hairdresser has a plaque by her chair that says, “I’m a stylist, not a magician.” It reminds me to have a realistic, correct viewpoint about my hair styling. We often have a distorted view of what is humanly possible, perhaps because God gave us the ability to do so many amazing things. I remember another sign at a medical clinic in Lilongwe, Malawi, where I was seen while living in Mzuzu. The African Bible University’s health clinic has a large sign at reception: “We treat, God Heals.” That truth is directly related to the purification liturgy in Leviticus when viewed from a biblical worldview. In his sovereignty, the Lord used the Israelites’ skin diseases to remind them of their need for spiritual cleansing. In the five chapters we will consider today, there is a particular focus on skin diseases that made a person or her possessions unclean and God’s process for purification. I suggest scanning the chapters, as I will be viewing them from a high altitude, to get the big-picture view rather than concentrate on the many interesting, symbolic details. In summary, “The Lord was now dwelling in the Israelites’ midst in his holy palace, and it was important that they did not disrespect him by defiling his dwelling with their ritual impurity. As a result, the priests were responsible for teaching them how to distinguish between various ritual states (impure, pure, holy) and especially, how to address their ritual impurity. Leviticus 11–15 meets this need, describing the causes of ritual impurity and how to address it properly. (1) As we move through the chapters, I pray we will be encouraged to submit and be accountable to God’s Word, embracing Christ’s invitation to purify our lives, hearts, minds, worship, and service.*
I Am the Lord
Our passage begins with a profound and motivating truth. “I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. This is the law about beast and bird and every living creature that moves through the waters and every creature that swarms on the ground, 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 11:45-47) “The rationale of why a creature is placed in one category vs. the other has puzzled commentators throughout the ages, and there is still no consensus of opinion…it is probably fair to say that no single one of [the possible explanations] can provide a rationale that works for all the animals in [Chapter 11]…[But] the purpose of these laws is clear. In brief, they were to help Israel–as the Lord’s holy people–to make distinctions between ritual cleanness and ritual uncleanness. Significantly, making these distinctions in the ritual realm would no doubt serve as a constant reminder to the people of their need for making the parallel distinctions in the moral realm as well. Further, adherence to these food laws expresses Israel’s devotion to the Lord…just as he separated the Israelites from the other nations, so they must separate clean from unclean foods. This is why the restrictions can be removed in Acts 10:9–28, when the Jew vs. Gentile distinction is no longer relevant in defining the people of God.” (2) “These laws set the Israelites apart as his people…they underscored the Lord’s holiness to the Israelites. Impurity is the opposite of holiness and incompatible with it…these laws served as a reminder to seek purity in all of life…The New Testament leaves behind the cultural concept of ritual purity and impurity. Nonetheless, it vigorously maintains that believers are to seek moral purity–and avoid moral impurity–in every aspect of their lives. As it was for the Israelites, this is to be a response of worshipful obedience to the Lord’s redeeming activity in our lives and a way of acknowledging and reflecting his own holiness to a watching world.” (3)
Ritual Impurity From Natural Causes
Chapter 12 is relatively short and moves into personal impurity for both men and women, explicitly addressing the blessed event of giving birth, which made a woman unclean. “And when the days of [a woman’s birthing] purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest…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 blood.” (Leviticus 12:6-7) “Leviticus 12 addresses the impurity experienced by the mother who has just given birth. The text makes clear that her impurity is not because of the child’s arrival (an event of great joy in Israel, but because of the blood lost during and after the birth process…The first half of this law would have reminded the Israelites of the Lord’s blazing holiness: only those who were ritually pure could draw near to his dwelling. Significantly, it would have been easy for the Israelites to see that, if this were true in the ritual realm, it would be even more so in the moral realm. At the same time, the Lord mercifully provided careful directions on how to become ritually pure, so that the mother could once more participate fully in Israel’s covenant worship. As a result, the Israelites would be reminded of the Lord’s intention for humanity since the beginning of creation: namely, to come before him in worship and to celebrate covenant fellowship with him and with one another. Such worship and fellowship are the very things Jesus came to bring his followers, and will characterize his kingdom in all its fullness.” (4) The Lord addressed these specific needs for purification before worship and fellowship; he held his people accountable to enjoy communion with him. God also delights in our sanctified worship, fellowship, and communion with him through Christ, who transforms our understanding of holiness before God.
Spiritual Cleansing For and From the Lord
Leviticus 13:1-14:32 focus on the uncleanness that results from skin diseases, which we usually classify as leprosy. “When a man is afflicted with a leprous disease, he shall be brought to the priest, and the priest shall look…if the leprous disease…covers all the skin of the diseased person from head to foot…he shall pronounce him clean of the disease; it has all turned white, and he is clean…But when raw flesh appears on him, he shall be unclean…Raw flesh is unclean, for it is a leprous disease…But if the raw flesh recovers and turns white again, then he shall come to the priest, and the priest shall examine him, and if the disease has turned white, then the priest shall pronounce the diseased person clean; he is clean…Then the priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord.” (Leviticus 13:9-12, 14-17; 14:18) “We should note at the beginning that that the purpose of these laws is not medical but ritual. God did not prescribe medical procedures to cure skin diseases. Instead, God decreed that certain kinds of sickness rendered His people ritually unclean. People who were unclean were not allowed to enter worship or to be with God’s people…The goals of Leviticus 13-15 are to teach the Israelites how to diagnose conditions that made them ritually unclean and how to return to a state of cleanness so they could return to worship and fellowship…Sin separated them from the place of worship. That physical reality carried an important spiritual lesson—sin separates us from God…the skin disease was an external reminder of sin and the physical deterioration sin causes. Why did God choose skin disease as a symbol or reminder of sin and the physical deterioration sin causes? There are many forms of sickness, many diseases. People were not excluded from worship because of a heart attack or headache…We should remember that these rules come from God, and since He is God, making the rules is His divine prerogative…our understanding is finite and God, who gave the laws, is infinite. However, if for some reason we reject God’s law or decide it is incorrect, we are at least being impertinent, if not blasphemous. God had a reason for all the laws He gave, even though those reasons may not be clear to us.” (5) “Skin disease symbolized sin and separation from God because that is the symbol God chose…Leprosy is progressive; its effects grow worse over time. Sin also is not stagnant. Sin seems insignificant at first, but it is insidious. The Devil and the world deceive us, and we deceive ourselves about how lethal sin is…Also, at the time God gave this law, leprosy was incurable. Sin is also an incurable disease as long as we are on this earth. Jesus saves us from sin, but we will never be completely without sin on this side of heaven…Leprosy affects the nervous system so that infected people become progressively desensitized to pain. Most forms of sickness cause suffering by making us hurt; leprosy causes suffering by making its victims incapable of hurting. Sin affects us the same way. The more we sin, the more we are desensitized to sin and its pain.” (6)
Spiritual Healing Supersedes Physical Healing
“In the laws concerning skin disease God gave the priests no ritual for healing the disease. Healing was in God’s hands. People with a skin disease would get well or get worse, and that was according to the sovereign providence of God. The laws God gave describe what to do it people got well, to re-introduce them into the community and into worship. So these laws are not about physical healing; they’re about ritual cleansing, being prepared to be in the presence of God. God gave a process for His people to follow to move from a state of uncleanness to a state of cleanness. If they followed the process God gave, they could be confident that they were no longer unclean. The process was gradual; it involved multiple steps. The people saw that being re-introduced into the presence of God in the sanctuary was not automatic or thoughtless. We too have a process to follow when sin has made us unfit to be in God’s presence. It involves confession, repentance, and seeking God’s presence in prayer and worship…Christians can and do sin, so we still need help in dealing with our sin problem. God gives that help in His forgiveness, His cleansing, and His sanctifying power in us…God gave His laws concerning cleanness and uncleanness in the context of His covenant with His people. God has now established the new covenant in Jesus. God’s old covenant prepared for Jesus’ coming and taught us principles that help us understand the person and work of Jesus…The process described in Leviticus 13-15 is now obsolete. So are all the laws related to the old covenant ceremonies. Jesus made that clear when Jewish leaders confronted Him about non-compliance with ceremonial law…Colossians 2:16-17 refers to old covenant ceremonial law as ‘a shadow of what was to come’…[Yet] The old covenant law shows us our dirtiness in God’s sight, and Jesus came to be the way we become clean—not just clean on the outside, but clean on the inside, and clean forever. He graduates us from symbol to substance. Paul wrote in Galatians 3:24 that the law is our ‘tutor’ or ‘guardian’ to lead us to Christ.” (7)
From the Law to Christ— From Symbol to Substance
“The aging process is, like leprosy, a process of gradual deterioration. When we age we face all sorts of physical challenges as our bodies grow weaker…Paul wrote, ‘our outer self is being destroyed’ (2 Cor. 4:16). However, he also wrote about our future. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul wrote, ‘We will all be changed. For this corruptible must be clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal must be clothed with immortality’ (vs. 52-53). In eternity, when we will have immortal bodies, what will life be like? Revelation 21 gives a glimpse of what heaven is like. ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away’ (vs. 3-4). Skin disease will pass away. Uncleanness will pass away. Death will pass away. Sin will pass away. Life without infirmity is in store for every person who knows Jesus as Savior—no more pain, no more crying , no more death or mourning…Our bodies will be eternally well, and our hearts will be unspeakably joyful. In the meantime, God teaches us in passages like Leviticus 13-15 to keep ourselves clean and holy until we are in his holy and loving presence forever.” (8) We do this by submitting and being accountable to God’s Word, appreciating and accepting Christ’s invitation to purify our lives, hearts, minds, worship, and service. We delight in our communion with Christ through the Holy Spirit. “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13)
Unholiness Affects Everything
Chapter 14 concludes with the problem of a “sick” house. I suppose today we would call it “mold,” but in the Promised Land, it was known as the same skin disease that made a person impure. God superintended over Israel’s life just as he does over ours. “When you come into the land of Canaan, which I give you for a possession, and I put a case of leprous disease in a house in the land of your possession, then he who owns the house shall come and tell the priest, ‘There seems to me to be some case of disease in my house’…If the disease breaks out again in the house, after he has taken out the stones and scraped the house and plastered it, then the priest shall go and look. And if the disease has spread in the house, it is a persistent leprous disease in the house; it is unclean. And he shall break down the house, its stones and timber and all the plaster of the house, and he shall carry them out of the city to an unclean place. Moreover, whoever enters the house while it is shut up shall be unclean until the evening, and whoever sleeps in the house shall wash his clothes, and whoever eats in the house shall wash his clothes. But if the priest comes and looks, and if the disease has not spread in the house after the house was plastered, then the priest shall pronounce the house clean, for the disease is healed.” (Lev. 14:33-35, 44-48) “For Israelites, ritual impurity could have an impact on every area of their lives, whether their bodies, their clothing or their homes. This impurity had to be addressed properly in order to prevent it from spreading through the camp and defiling the Lord’s holy palace. This often required Israelites to undertake costly actions, whether dwelling outside the camp, burning garments or tearing down their homes. The costliness of these actions would have underscored how deeply the Israelites were to respect the holy Lord who had redeemed them and now dwelt in their midst…[and] reminded the Israelites of the love they were to show their neighbours. Failing to deal properly with these diseases or infestations could have a tremendously negative impact on the camp as a whole; love of neighbours often requires costly actions in order to prevent harm from coming to them. At the same time, these regulations were reminders to the Israelites that, just as ritual impurity could have an impact on every area of their lives, so too could moral impurity. The regulations would therefore have functioned as calls to holiness in all of life. Biblical religion is never about committing just part of our life to the Lord, but all of it.” (9)
Separating Ourselves From Uncleanness
Finally, we get to Leviticus 15, about normal, natural physical processes called “discharges.” Cleansing rites are given for men and women and their possessions, so the entire community, especially the tabernacle, remains clean. The chapter ends with this warning: “Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst” (vs. 15:29-31). “Leviticus 15 tells the Israelites how to address each impurity and so maintain covenant fellowship with their holy Lord…by providing the Israelites with a way to cleanse their impurity–and where necessary to atone for it–the Lord demonstrates his desire for his covenant children to come into his presence in worship, as well as to enjoy covenant fellowship with one another…such lessons in the realm of ritual purity and impurity would have served as pictures of what was expected in the realm of moral purity and impurity. Leviticus 15 would have therefore reminded Israelites to seek moral purity in every aspect of life (especially in terms of sexual purity), as well as to look to the Lord to provide moral cleansing. Believers today are to do the same, having a holy hatred of sin, as well as a firm assurance that the blood of Jesus can cleanse us–thoroughly and completely–of all unrighteousness.” (10) Today, we have Christian liberty to determine what we do, how and when we do it, and whom we affect by our conduct. We also have tremendous medical resources to diagnose and heal our diseases, making it harder to depend upon God to heal our souls, hearts, and minds. So we must continue to look to God’s Word for our guidance. And His Word says, “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful, but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor…So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:23-24, 31)
Related Scripture: Job 2:10; Psalm 23:1-4; Isaiah 1:16; Jeremiah 4:14; Mark 7:14-23; Romans 14:13-14; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Colossians 2:16-23; Hebrews 10:1-18; 1 Peter 1:13; 2:11-12; Revelation 21:1–7.
* I was motivated by external factors to finish this devotion in a week, rather than two. I’ve also edited it several times to try shorten it for easier reading. I hope you will appreciate its thoroughness despite its length.
1. Sklar, Jay, Leviticus, An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Introduction to Chapters 11-15, IVP Academic, 2014.
2. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Introduction to Leviticus 11, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
3. Sklar, Ibid, Leviticus 11 Meaning.
4. Sklar, Ibid, Leviticus 12 Introduction.
5. Sklar, Ibid.
6. Moseley, Allen, Exalting Jesus in Leviticus, Christ-Centered Exposition Series, Leviticus 13-15 B&H Publishing Group, 2015.
7. Mosley, Ibid.
8. Mosley, Ibid.
9. Sklar, Ibid, Leviticus 14:33-54.
10.Sklar on Lev. 15
April 13, 2023