Leviticus (Lesson Four: The Laws of Clean and Unclean, Part One [Chapters 11-12, 15])
1. The Purpose of the Laws of Ritual Cleanness
The instructive intent of the ceremonial laws of ritual cleanness
The laws depicted ascending levels of separation: “unclean” (in contact with sin, death, decay); “clean” (separated from sin, death, and decay); “holy” (separated from all else and consecrated to God). Compare the levels of separation in holy space: common ground, the Holy Place, the Holy of Holies.
Laws of clean and unclean do not pertain to actual sin, but rather showcase the effects of sin (e.g. all that sin produces, including death, decay, etc., is ceremonially unclean); and they provide “object lessons” of abstract moral sins (e.g. the outward corruption of leprosy mirrors the inward corruption of moral evil; the prohibition against mixing fabrics and seeds mirrors the calling of the Church to be separate from the world in its sinfulness).
The replacement of ceremonial laws with the substance to which they pointed
When Christ came, he brought the reality to which the ceremonial laws pointed, he replaced the “shadow” with the “substance” (Heb. 8:5; 9:11-14; 23-24; 10:1).
Because the substance has arrived, the shadow is done away with; to be subject to the shadow is to reject the substance, which is to sin against Christ by minimizing his accomplishment and despising his grace and the good fruits of his creation (Gal. 4:8-11; Col. 2:20-23; 1 Tim. 4:3-5).
However, there is still room to be accommodating to weak brothers who have ungrounded conscientious scruples (Rom. 14).
2. The Dietary Laws (Chapter 11)
Characteristics of clean and unclean animals
Clean animals were normal (e.g. fish with fins and scales; common “barnyard” animals).
Clean animals were separated from the dirt of the earth (cloven hoof, indicates twofold separation when walking on the earth; chewing the cud, indicates twofold separation in eating those plants which come from the earth; insects that crawled in the earth were unclean, but those that hopped above the earth – locusts, grasshoppers, etc. – were clean). Remember, the earth was cursed because of sin, and it was the curse of the serpent to wallow in the dust of the ground (Gen 3:14).
Clean animals were vegetarian (they did not feed on decay or corruption, they did not kill and plunder).
Moral lessons to be derived from the dietary laws
Be separate from all evils symbolized by the unclean animals. Do not be rapacious, as wolves; greedy and coarse, as pigs; lustful for filthy and lewd things, as vultures; twisted or perverted by evil, as eels with skin instead of scales, etc.
“Now, wherefore did Moses say, ‘Thou shalt not eat the swine, nor the eagle, nor the hawk, nor the raven, nor any fish which is not possessed of scales?’…Moses spoke with a spiritual reference. For this reason he named the swine, as much as to say, ‘Thou shalt not join thyself to men who resemble swine.’…These [unclean] birds, while they sit idle, inquire how they may devour the flesh of others, proving themselves pests [to all] by their wickedness…” (The Epistle of Barnabas, chap. 10).
Do not just avoid sin, be far removed from any sign or temptation of it. Not just eating unclean animals made one unclean, but also touching anything that one of them had died in or on, touching the corpse even of a clean animal, etc.
The specific reason given for these laws is that God is our God; he has redeemed us; and he requires holiness of us (Lev. 11:44-45); these laws teach us symbolically the need to “be holy as [God is] holy”.
3. Laws pertaining to sexuality and reproduction (Chapters 12, 15)
Specific regulations of the ceremonial laws pertaining to sexuality and reproduction
Uncleanness was a result of the normal cycles of reproduction (menstruation [cf. Ezek. 36:17; Isa. 64:4] and any emission of semen – 15:16-17, 19-24).
Uncleanness was a result of abnormal genital discharges in male or female caused by a medical disorder (15:2-15, 25-30).
Uncleanness was a result of sexual intercourse (15:18).
Uncleanness was a result of childbearing (chap. 12 [cf. Ezek. 16:4-6]).
Principles to be derived from the ceremonial laws pertaining to sexuality and reproduction
The mother was unclean for forty days after the birth of a son, but for eighty days after the birth of a daughter. Perhaps (?) because only sons were circumcised, as if to say, “these forty days of symbolic uncleanness will be done away, when the Messiah is cut off for sin (as circumcision signified).
These laws teach of inherited sin, but they do not suggest that human sexuality is inherently sinful (cf. Heb. 13:4).
The negation of ceremonial laws pertaining to sexuality and reproduction in this redemptive era
Jesus submitted to all of the ceremonial regulations regarding childbirth, and thus fulfilled all the righteous requirements of the Law (Luke 2:22).
In his ministry on earth, he showed his power to cleanse from the kinds of impurities spoken of in Leviticus 15 when the woman with an issue of blood touched him and was healed (Mat. 9:20-22).
Then, he accomplished the substance to which these shadows pointed, suffering on the cross so that he might make his people clean indeed.
Hence, when the disciples dealt with the question of the ongoing validity of the Mosaic Law, they determined that the Church should not eat things offered to idols, blood, or things strangled (all that is “left over” from the ceremonial dietary laws); and that they should abstain from fornication (all that is “left over” from the laws pertaining to reproduction).