Lessons from Leviticus - Chapters 11-17
E. L. Lovering, Ilfracombe
In this paper we shall consider the Purification of the Camp, chs. 11-15; the Provision of Atonement, ch. 16; and the Principle of Sacrifice and Preciousness of blood, ch. 17.
The Purification of the Camp,
11. 1 to 15. 33, deals with the matter of Meals, ch. 11, Motherhood, ch. 12, and Maladies, chs. 13-15. In the matter of Meals, the law is enunciated by which the clean and unclean may be distinguished, 11. 47. God cares for the apparently insignificant details in the ordinary things of life. Two sparrows were sold for a farthing and yet "one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father", Matt. 10. 29, 30. Whatever parted the hoof and chewed the cud was fit for eating, as were the creatures that had fins and scales in the water, Lev. 11. 3, 9. Though this had contemporary relevance to the Israelites, it is not without permanent value to the believer's present conduct. Two principles are here defined, the need to ponder the Word in meditation and to practise the Word in separation. Detachment from the world inevitably follows devotion to the Word. It was not sufficient for the beast to divide the hoof and not chew the cud, for the inward life and outward walk must always be consistent. The "fins" with their power for good and the "scales" to protect from evil provide an obvious lesson for the Christian. Passing through this world, he needs to be protected from its evil and in this he is assured by the Saviour's prayer to the Father on behalf of His own, "not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil", John 17. 15. Other nations might eat what they pleased, but Israel only that which pleased Jehovah. "Whether therefore, ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God", 1 Cor. 10. 31, is a principle of permanent relevance. In the economy of grace, let us be careful to discriminate, and not call anything common that God has cleansed, Acts 10. 15; nor "be subject to ordinances, (touch not; taste not; handle not; which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men", Col. 2. 20-23.
Leviticus 12 deals with the subject of Motherhood, a trust which was sanctified by sacrifice. After the days of her purifying, the priest made atonement for her and she was pronounced clean, 12. 7-8. This law established motherhood as a sacred trust, both physically and spiritually, one of the most sacred in the whole of human experience. How contrasting are the views of much contemporary thought.
The birth of a child is both a joyous and a solemn event, for it proves man's ruin and provided God's remedy. David declared, "in sin did my mother conceive me", Psa. 51. 5, a fact from which no human being can escape, "for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God", Rom. 3. 23. It is, however, gloriously true that through "the seed of the woman" God provided the remedy for sin, by sending His Son into the world, "made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law", Gal. 4. 4, 5. Here, too, we see a mother's sacrifice; perhaps through poverty unable to bring a lamb, she brought instead "two turtles, or two young pigeons", 12. 8. Such was Mary's offering when she presented the child Jesus to the Lord, Luke 2. 22-24.
The remainder of the section before us deals with the problem of Maladies, of leprosy in persons, garments and houses, Lev. 13, 14, and of issues in man, seed and woman, ch. 15. In these apparently obscure passages, it is well to remember that "whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning", Rom. 15. 4, and that there may be portions of Holy Scripture more suitable for private meditation than for public ministry.
Details of the law of leprosy and issues indicate the importance of both physical and spiritual cleanliness. The words "unclean" and "defiled" occur more than one hundred times in these chapters, the emphasis being ceremonial rather than moral and ethical, so that the leper is said to be cleansed rather than healed. In the discovery and diagnosis of the disease of leprosy there was to be no carelessness, "the priest shall look (behold, see, consider) on the plague in the skin of the flesh", Lev. 13. 3. Here was an action filled with pathos, for the priest was powerless to effect a cure. In the absence of the disease there followed a period of separation and later of restoration to the community. Where the leprosy was proven, with rent clothes, bare head and upper lip covered, the leper would cry, "Unclean, unclean", 13. 45. How wonderful that the Lord Jesus, in the days of His flesh, not only looked on the leper but actually touched him and made him clean. We note further that in the matter of leprosy it was essential that there should be no contamination. The garment, having been examined, was burnt by the priest, 13. 57. Garments are symbolic of man's habits and associations, which demand special care and watchfulness. A house affected by the disease, and likely to spread it, was either completely cleansed or destroyed, 14. 45, for there was to be no compromise in this matter. Whatever in our life has been associated with evil must be destroyed without compromise or compassion, "hating even the garment spotted by the flesh", Jude 23.
The section concludes with the laws relating to defilement. There was to be no contact with that which was ceremonially unclean, Lev. 15. 31. Fallen human nature is an impure fountain, and all its streams polluting; it is defiled and defiling in whatever guise it may appear, Mark 7. 19-23. For such defilement there is ample provision; there is blood to expiate and water to cleanse, Lev. 15. 27, 30. "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin", 1 John. 1. 7, and in His Word there is daily cleansing for all who heed its precepts Psa 119. 9.
The Provision of Atonement is
detailed in Leviticus 16, and describes the greatest day of the year, when atonement was made for all the sins of all the congregation, the priests, people and all things, including the sanctuary, 16. 33.
The events of this tremendous day were but shadows of good things to come, Heb. 10. 1. Having washed his flesh in water, Aaron put on the holy garments, the breeches, the girdle and the mitre, all of linen, Lev. 16. 4. All this emphasized the need for purity in the office of priesthood. These were not the gorgeous robes of priestly office, but the simple purity of white linen. Christ, our great High Priest, is "holy, harmless, undefiled", the holy One of God, alone fitted for entrance into the holiest.
Aaron first offered a sacrifice "for himself", 16. 11, and then "for the people", but Christ was "without sin" and His sacrifice was perfect. He "through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God", not with the blood of beasts unable to take away sin, but "by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption", Heb. 9. 12, 14.
The slain goat and the scapegoat must be considered as one sacrifice, setting forth one whole truth. The slain goat for the sin offering indicated that God's glory was maintained and atonement made for sin, while the scapegoat, taken away by "the hand of a fit man into the wilderness", symbolized the putting away of Israel's sins. All their sins had been confessed upon the head of the live goat, to remind us that "As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us", Psa. 103. 12. The promise is that, "their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more", Heb. 8. 12; 10. 17.
The thought of purity and perfection is followed by that of permanence: "And this shall be an everlasting statute unto you, to make an atonement for the children of Israel for all their sins once a year", Lev. 16. 34. Here was a ritual to be repeated annually, but Christ "after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God", Heb. 10. 12. The day was to be a Sabbath of rest, when they should afflict their souls, by a statute for ever, Lev. 16. 31. This was but a shadow of the lasting peace which Christ, by His more perfect sacrifice, would give the conscience, purging it "from dead works to serve the living God", Heb. 9. 14.
The final section of this lesson focuses attention on The Principle of Sacrifice and the Preciousness of Blood, Lev. 17. It begins with the all-inclusive command of Jehovah in the matter of sacrifice, and emphasizes the fact that life belongs to God. First, there is the portion of Jehovah, 17. 4, 6, as the slain beast is brought before the Lord to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. God claims the life in the place of His appointment, before the tabernacle of the Lord. The blood and the fat was burnt "for a sweet savour unto the Lord", 17. 6; it belonged to God in its entirety. Here was a foreshadowing of the life and devotion of the Saviour, voluntarily offered on the cross. Secondly, we note, the preciousness of blood, for Jehovah clearly stated that "the life of the flesh is in the blood : and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul", 17. 11. God claimed from man his most precious possession, even his life, since this he forfeited through sin, Gen. 3. In His mercy and grace God gave the life of His own Son to make atonement possible. The doctrine of the blood is at the heart of the Christian faith, for "without shedding of blood is no remission", Heb. 9. 22, and for man's redemption only "the precious blood of Christ" could atone. The theme of the glory song is, "Thou art worthy ... for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood", Rev. 5. 9-12.
We should note that "biblically" atonement is an Old Testament word, but "theologically" it is taken to mean all that is included in the redemptive work of Christ. In the Old Testament idea of atonement sins are covered and hidden from sight, but in the New Testament meaning of reconciliation, they are cancelled and pass out of existence.
Precious, precious blood of Jesus,
Shed on Calvary; Shed for sinners, shed for rebels,
Shed for me.