Leviticus 15 – Laws Concerning Bodily Discharges
A. Bodily discharges from a man.
1. (1-3) The general principle regarding an abnormal bodily discharge.
And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When any man has a discharge from his body, his discharge is unclean. And this shall be his uncleanness in regard to his discharge—whether his body runs with his discharge, or his body is stopped up by his discharge, it is his uncleanness.
a. When any man has a discharge from his body, his discharge is unclean: The idea is of some obviously abnormal genital discharge, indicating some type of disease. When this occurs, the man was to be somewhat isolated in order not to pass on the infection to anyone else.
i. “This refers to an abnormal fluid that comes out of the male sexual organ as a result of some kind of sickness.” (Peter-Contesse)
ii. “The exact nature of this discharge is not stated, although the most frequently suggested opinion is that it refers to gonorrhea. ” (Rooker)
iii. From his body: From the context, it is clear that this is a polite reference to the penis, the male sexual organ. God and His word deal with all manner of private and sexual matters but do so in an appropriate, dignified way. There is no coarse or inappropriate reference here.
b. And this shall be his uncleanness: In contrast to the previous chapters regarding the broad definition of leprosy, there is no mention made of priestly inspection or monitoring. This was done by the individual, supported by the expectation of the culture.
i. His body is stopped up by his discharge: “One way of understanding this passage is that the discharge caused by the infection may block the opening in the penis.” (Peter-Contesse)
c. It is his uncleanness: The status of “unclean” did not completely take the unclean one out of the community. It placed restrictions on them and required a ceremonial purification if and when the infection was gone.
2. (4-12) The spread of the uncleanness of an abnormal bodily discharge.
Every bed is unclean on which he who has the discharge lies, and everything on which he sits shall be unclean. And whoever touches his bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. He who sits on anything on which he who has the discharge sat shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. And he who touches the body of him who has the discharge shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. If he who has the discharge spits on him who is clean, then he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. Any saddle on which he who has the discharge rides shall be unclean. Whoever touches anything that was under him shall be unclean until evening. He who carries any of those things shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. And whomever the one who has the discharge touches, and has not rinsed his hands in water, he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. The vessel of earth that he who has the discharge touches shall be broken, and every vessel of wood shall be rinsed in water.
a. Every bed is unclean on which he who has the discharge lies: Essentially, the uncleanness associated with an abnormal genital discharge from a man was spread through contact. Therefore, it could be transmitted to a bed, to a place on which he sits, and by direct touch (he who touches).
b. Whoever touches his bed: In this context, there were three ways a person or thing might be made unclean. The first level was the uncleanness of the man afflicted with the abnormal genital discharge (15:1-3). The second level was an object or person who came into contact with the afflicted one. The third level was someone who came in contact with an object made unclean.
c. If he who has the discharge spits on him who is clean: The uncleanness could also be spread through saliva. The general principle was that when the unclean comes into contact with the clean, it is the clean that is made unclean.
i. This general principle was completely reversed in the person and work of Jesus the Messiah. When Jesus – who was “clean” in every sense – touched an unclean person, He made them clean (Luke 5:12-14). They didn’t make Him unclean.
d. Whoever touches his bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water: People and things made unclean on the second or third level could be purified by a ceremonial washing of the object and the person involved. Then their uncleanness ended when the day ended (until evening).
3. (13-15) The offering regarding an abnormal bodily discharge.
‘And when he who has a discharge is cleansed of his discharge, then he shall count for himself seven days for his cleansing, wash his clothes, and bathe his body in running water; then he shall be clean. On the eighth day he shall take for himself two turtledoves or two young pigeons, and come before the LORD, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and give them to the priest. Then the priest shall offer them, the one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him before the LORD because of his discharge.
a. When he who has a discharge is cleansed: When the abnormal genital discharge ended, the man could be made ceremonially clean. After a period of seven days (presumably without the discharge), there was a ceremonial cleansing.
b. He shall take for himself two turtledoves or two young pigeons: A small offering was brought to the priest at the tabernacle. They were offered as a sin offering and as a burnt offering.
4. (16-18) Regarding a normal bodily discharge from a man.
‘If any man has an emission of semen, then he shall wash all his body in water, and be unclean until evening. And any garment and any leather on which there is semen, it shall be washed with water, and be unclean until evening. Also, when a woman lies with a man, and there is an emission of semen, they shall bathe in water, and be unclean until evening.
a. If any man has an emission of semen: When a man discharged semen (either accidentally or in sex), he had to cleanse himself and respect a brief time of ceremonial impurity.
i. The fact that even normal and permitted sexual activity made a man ceremonially unclean was not God’s condemnation of sex. It was a powerful way to prevent an aspect of sexual and spiritual corruption common in the ancient world: ritual prostitution, often practiced at a sacred place. Under this principle of the Law of Moses, any emission of semen was ceremonially unclean and could not be associated with the working of the tabernacle or temple. In a radical way, this separated Israel from the spiritual and sexual practices of the surrounding peoples.
ii. “The declaration of semen as unclean in this passage illustrates the sharp distinction between Israelite religion and the pagan religions of the ancient Near East. In pagan religion sexual activity among worshipers was believed to activate the gods into fertilizing the soil with rain.” (Rooker)
b. They shall bathe in water, and be unclean until evening: In the case of an emission of semen, both the man and his wife needed to ceremonially cleanse themselves and respect a brief time of ceremonial impurity.
i. It is the habit of many today – even many believers – to consider their sexual life and practices to be their own business and not God’s business. Here we see that God has a part in even natural, permitted, blessed expressions of sexuality.
ii. “We must bring the thought of God into the simplest, the commonest, and the most secret acts. Nothing is outside His jurisdiction. Though hid from sight, yet He is ever near the child of God. His grace, and blood, and cleansing, are always requisite, and ever ready.” (Meyer)
B. Bodily discharges from a woman.
1. (19-24) Impurity during menstruation.
‘If a woman has a discharge, and the discharge from her body is blood, she shall be set apart seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening. Everything that she lies on during her impurity shall be unclean; also everything that she sits on shall be unclean. Whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. And whoever touches anything that she sat on shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. If anything is on her bed or on anything on which she sits, when he touches it, he shall be unclean until evening. And if any man lies with her at all, so that her impurity is on him, he shall be unclean seven days; and every bed on which he lies shall be unclean.
a. If a woman has a discharge: In the case of a bloody discharge from a woman (her normal menstruation), her ceremonial impurity could be spread through direct contact or through an object that she lay or sat upon.
b. She shall be set apart seven days: The woman’s ceremonial impurity lasted seven days. There is no specific washing commanded at the end of the seven days, but it was either implied or considered unnecessary.
i. There was at least one other additional benefit: “The laws would also provide the woman a break from housework, caring for children, and marital relations.” (Rooker)
c. If any man lies with her: A man who had sex with a woman during her days of normal menstruation was also unclean seven days, following the course of the woman’s uncleanness. The man made unclean could spread his uncleanness through contact (every bed on which he lies shall be unclean).
i. The avoidance of intercourse during menstruation was later mentioned in Ezekiel 18:6 as an evidence of a righteous man. As an aspect of the law given to Israel under the Old Covenant, under the New Covenant this is no longer binding on Christians, whatever other reasons there may be for avoiding intercourse during menstruation.
ii. Yet a principle behind this command is universal, for every Christian and even every person: God commands sexual restraint. The command forced the obedient Israelite man or woman to say “no” to their sexual desires in certain situations. This does not mean that God regards sex itself as inherently sinful or impure, but it does mean that the sexual ethic of “if it feels good, do it” is an ungodly and destructive approach.
iii. The principle of sexual restraint is often stated in the New Testament. The mere presence of both desire and opportunity do not mean that a sexual act is obedient or pure before God. It is significant that the Apostle Paul made a close connection between uncleanness and sexual immorality, as in 2 Corinthians 12:21, Ephesians 5:3, Colossians 3:5 and other passages.
iv. Beyond building a culture of appropriate sexual restraint, there were additional benefits to these commands. “These laws, in addition to rendering the Israelites as a distinct nation, would undeniably provide a measure of good hygiene as well.” (Rooker)
2. (25-30) Unusual or abnormal bodily discharge.
‘If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, other than at the time of her customary impurity, or if it runs beyond her usual time of impurity, all the days of her unclean discharge shall be as the days of her customary impurity. She shall be unclean. Every bed on which she lies all the days of her discharge shall be to her as the bed of her impurity; and whatever she sits on shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her impurity. Whoever touches those things shall be unclean; he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening.
a. If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days: In the case of blood discharge other than normal menstruation (either longer in duration or out of her normal menstrual cycle), a woman was also ceremonially unclean.
b. Whatever she sits on shall be unclean: The woman’s ceremonial uncleanness could be spread to any object upon which she lay or sat. That uncleanness would be spread to any person touching those objects made unclean.
3. (28-30) The offering made upon the cleansing of a woman with an abnormal genital discharge.
But if she is cleansed of her discharge, then she shall count for herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean. And on the eighth day she shall take for herself two turtledoves or two young pigeons, and bring them to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Then the priest shall offer the one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering, and the priest shall make atonement for her before the LORD for the discharge of her uncleanness.
a. If she is cleansed: When the abnormal discharge ended, there was an additional seven days of ceremonial impurity. This was the same procedure followed after the cleansing of a man with an abnormal genital discharge (verses 13-15).
b. She shall take for herself two turtledoves or two young pigeons: A small offering was brought to the priest at the tabernacle. They were offered as a sin offering and as a burnt offering.
i. “The reason offerings had to be made for these discharges and not for the discharges of semen and menstruation was because they were considered abnormal.” (Rooker)
4. (31-33) Summation of the laws of bodily discharge.
‘Thus you shall separate the children of Israel from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness when they defile My tabernacle that is among them. This is the law for one who has a discharge, and for him who emits semen and is unclean thereby, and for her who is indisposed because of her customary impurity, and for one who has a discharge, either man or woman, and for him who lies with her who is unclean.’”
a. When they defile My tabernacle: None of these discharges made a man or a woman sinful, only ceremonially unclean. Normal discharges of semen and menstruation made one ceremonially unclean, not because there was anything inherently wrong with them, but because the two are connected with symbols of redemption and life, blood and semen.
i. This presented a powerful and consistent message. It said that there is something broken and inherently impure in us, even in what comes from us normally. It also said that there is a significant aspect of our brokenness and impurity that is, in some way, connected to our sexuality.
ii. We have a tendency to think that if something is natural, it is pure. That may not be true. “The ordinary processes of life are not necessarily clean because they are natural. The foul heart may vitiate the most natural functions.” (Meyer)
iii. “A careful perusal of these requirements reminds us that the procreative faculties are all underneath the curse…. Whether the exercise of such faculties be natural or unnatural, in the sight of a God of absolute holiness they are tainted with sin.” (Morgan)
b. When they defile My tabernacle that is among them: This made an obvious separation between sex and the worship of God. To the modern world this seems normal, but in the ancient world it was common to worship the gods by having sex with temple prostitutes. God did not want this association in His worship.
i. “Thus it would be an abomination to engage in sexual activity in the tabernacle precinct.” (Rooker)
ii. It is important for us to regard these laws of cleanliness from a New Testament perspective. In Mark 7:1-9 Jesus criticized the Pharisees for their over-emphasis on ceremonial cleanliness and their lack of regard for internal cleanliness. These laws were meant to have both hygienic benefits and spiritual applications; they were never intended as the way to be right with God.
iii. In Acts 15, the early Christian community properly discerned the work and will of God in the New Covenant: that under the New Covenant, the believer was not bound to these laws of ritual purity. One could be a follower of Jesus without the ritual conformity to the Mosaic Law.
iv. Yet we need to remember that spiritual cleanliness in worship is important today. We also remember that Jesus is the One who makes us clean and fit for fellowship: You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you (John 15:3). As we receive from the word of God, we are being cleansed. As G. Campbell Morgan wrote, “For us the way of perpetual cleansing is provided in Christ.”
v. Our cleanliness is complete as we abide in Jesus: 1 John 1:7-9 – But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.