May 4, 2005
“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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This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.