Leviticus 15
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Leviticus 15
cf. Psalm 19:12; 1 Timothy 1:13. We have already had occasion to discern as a clear lesson of the old ritual that sin is a nature. The old law did not confine itself to overt acts, but insisted on "sins of ignorance" being regarded as elements of guilt (cf. chapter 4.). Then again we have sin shown to originate in birth (chapter 12); we have its tangible effects strikingly illustrated in the law of the leprosy (chapters 13, 14); and now we have the analysis of sin completed in these laws about issues.

I. IT IS A PHYSICAL FACT THAT MEN AND WOMEN MAY BECOME UNCLEAN WITHOUT ANY ACT OF VOLITION ON THEIR PART. Into the particulars of menstruation and of gonorrhea benigna it is unnecessary to enter. The chapter before us states the fact, and asserts the legal uncleanness which is thereby entailed. If involuntary results entail uncleanness, it is clear that voluntary elements entering in (verse 18) must increase the sense of uncleanness. Experience confirms the Divine decision. There is a sense of uncleanness which arises as soon as the man or woman becomes conscious of the issue.

II. IT IS EVIDENT FROM THIS THAT SIN HAS A SPHERE OF OPERATION BEYOND CONSCIOUS VOLITION. Just as physically a man or woman contracts uncleanness during the unconsciousness of sleep, so morally we find sinful issues coming forth from the evil heart and nature ere ever we are aware. In strict conformity with this fact, Jonathan Edwards was accustomed to analyze his dreams, believing that, in these involuntary movements of the mind, the moral tendencies of the indwelling spirit may often be detected, and by greater watchfulness subdued. "No mind," says Dr. Shedd, "that thinks at all upon sin can possibly stop with the outward act. Its own rational reflection hurries it away, almost instantaneously, from the blow of the murderer - from the momentary gleam of the knife - to the volition within that strung the muscle and nerved the blow. But the mind cannot stop here in its search for the essential reality of sin. When we have reached the sphere - the inward sphere - of volitions, we have by no means reached the ultimate ground and form of sin. We may suppose that because we have gone beyond the outward act - because we are now within the man - we have found sin in its last form. But we are mistaken. Closer thinking, and what is still better, a deeper experience, will disclose to us a depth in our souls lower than that in which volitions occur, and a form of sin in that depth, and to the bottom of it, very different from the sin of single volitions. The thinking mind which cannot stop with mere effects, but seeks for first causes, and especially the heart that knows its own plague, cannot stop with that quite superficial action of the will which manifests itself in a volition. The action is too isolated - too intermittent - and, in reality, too feeble, to account for so steady and uniform a state of character as human sinfulness. For these particular volitions, ending in particular outward actions, the mind instinctively seeks a common ground. For these innumerable volitions, occurring each by itself and separately, the mind instinctively seeks one single indivisible nature from which they spring. When the mind has got back to this point, it stops content, because it has reached a central point." This most important truth, then, is most powerfully presented by this law regarding issues. We are held responsible for much more than the voluntary element in life.

III. THE FRUITLESSNESS OF THESE OUTCOMES OF NATURE SHOULD ALSO RECEIVE A PASSING NOTICE. The issues spoken of in this chapter are, with one exception, fruitless issues. In no plainer way could the fruitless issues of man's evil nature be illustrated. If "out of the heart are the issues of life," out of man's evil heart of unbelief are issues of fruitlessness and death.

IV. FOR THESE UNCLEANNESSES, INVOLUNTARY AND SECRET, GOD PROVIDED A FITTING ATONEMENT. It is very noticeable that, while the reality of the guilt in these cases is made manifest, it is the smallest sacrifice, two turtle-doves, or two young pigeons, which God requires. There is no exaggeration in dealing with the secret sins. Done in ignorance, they are not placed upon the same level with voluntary transgressions. At the same time, they are not winked at. The sin offering is, of course, a type of Christ, our Atoning Sacrifice. It is on the ground of his atonement that we ask cleansing from secret faults (Psalm 19:12) as well as from conscious transgressions. In truth, we are encouraged to come and to acknowledge that sin is a much larger matter than we are conscious of, that, in fact, it goes beyond all our conceptions, but at the same time is within the reach and grasp of our Lord's atoning power. If he thus sets our secret sins in the light of his countenance, it is that he may have them entirely removed. Saul may have committed his sin: of persecution ignorantly in unbelief, but he needs to obtain mercy on account of them (1 Timothy 2:13). Superficial views of sin would lead men to imagine that a sin done in ignorance is not a guilty thing. God thinks differently, because he looks into the heart and discerns the deep-seated source. The burnt offering was to express the renewed sense of consecration which the cleansing brings. Out of defilement the soul passes, by Divine grace, into devotion. The whole analysis of sin in these chapters (13-15) is profound and philosophical. In fact, portions of Scripture apparently repulsive become replete with wholesome truth when handled humbly and reverently. - R.M.E.

Had sin never entered, there had been no disease. Diseases are consequences of sin; their symptoms are therefore taken as emblems of it. So when our Lord miraculously "healed all manner of sickness, and all manner of disease," he evinced ability to remove all corresponding moral evil. The examples specified in the Law are typical or representative, and are such as have symptoms pronounced and visible.


1. Out of a pure heart are the issues of life (see Proverbs 4:23).

(1) The blood, which is the life of the flesh, issuing from the heart, passes along the arteries to the extremities of the body, and carries nourishment to every part.

(2) This is a fine emblem of the heart of the "good treasure," whose influence upon any corporation, whether domestic, civic, or ecclesiastic, is life-giving (Luke 6:45). But:

2. Out of a foul heart are the issues of death.

(1) If the blood is poisoned at its source, the poison is carried to the extremities, and will break out in ulcers and purulent issues.

(2) As these symptoms declare the boldness of the blood at the heart, which, if not purified, must terminate in mortification and death, so arc they appropriate emblems of moral impurity (see Matthew 12:34, 35; Mark 7:20-23; James 1:21).

(3) Or if the blood, which is the life, flow away from the body, that also is a fitting emblem of sin which is spiritual death. Therefore the woman who has an issue of blood is accounted unclean, as being in that condition in which the streams of the fountain of life are diverted from their uses of health and nourishment. Those who reject the life-giving efficacy of the gospel are morally dead, and must, if they remain so, rot in their iniquities (see Lamentations 1:9, 17; Ezekiel 36:17).

3. The Law enjoined the separation of the unclean.

(1) They must not come into the tabernacle. They are unfit to stand in God's presence or to mingle with his people. They must not eat of the holy things. They are in no moral condition to hold fellowship with God and his Church (see Psalm 24:4; Matthew 5:8).

(2) They have to remove outside the camp, like the leper (see Numbers 5:2, 3). There they must remain until they are healed and cleansed.

(3) They transgress these bounds at their peril. They may be stoned to death by the people, or God himself may deal with them (verse 31; Exodus 19:12, 13). The profane under the gospel have a "much sorer punishment" (see Hebrews 10:26-31).


1. This signified the contagion of sin.

(1) Persons were rendered unclean by contact with them (verses 7, 19, 26). We cannot have fellowship with sin and with God (1 Corinthians 5:11; 1 Corinthians 15:33; 2 Corinthians 6:15-18; Ephesians 4:29; James 4:4).

(2) Things touched by them were also rendered unclean. The bed, the chair, the saddle, etc. (verses 4, 12, 20). These things may represent men in their properties or attributes, or in their usages, which are all damaged by the influence of sin (1 Thessalonians 4:4).

(3) Those who touched things rendered unclean by contact, also became unclean (verses 5, 6, 21-23). What a picture of the spreading power of evil example! How careful should we be to save ourselves from the untoward generation!

2. Ever, when cured they must be cleansed.

(1) Genuine repentance may cure sinful habits, but does not cancel guilt nor purify from sin. The utmost it could do is to prevent accumulations of guilt; the old score remains to be dealt with It does not touch the depravity of the heart (see Matthew 23:25).

(2) Time is given to test the cure. Where the disease was rooted, "seven days" of quarantine were required (see verses 13, 24, 28). The repentance of a moment after a life of evil habits may prove illusive.

(3) Where no disease existed, but uncleanness was contracted by contact, the quarantine was "until the even." The time here indicated was that of the evening sacrifice, which pointed significantly to the evening of the Jewish day, otherwise called the "end of the world" or age, viz. when Jesus "appeared to put away sin [sacrifices] by the sacrifice of himself," and remove ritual obligations.

3. Observe the ceremonies of cleansing.

(1) Some who were made clean by contact had to wash their hands (verse 11; comp. Luke 11:38-41). This was when they were passive when the contact was inflicted. But if they neglected to rinse their hands, then they were as though they were active, so they had to wash their flesh and their clothes, and be unclean until the even. No special sacrifices were prescribed. They availed themselves of the daily sacrifice ever on the altar. So in our contact with the moral filth of this world, which is often unavoidable, we have the fountain of the house of David ever flowing, to enable us, almost without an interruption, to walk in the light (see 2 Corinthians 7:1; 1 John 1:7; comp. John 13:10).

(2) The person healed of an issue had to bathe his flesh and wash his clothes on the seventh day, when he became "clean." So far he cleansed himself. The spirit of the Law was fulfilled thus far if he put away all his evil ways (see Isaiah 1:16; Matthew 15:20; James 4:8). He was clean so far as repentance could make him so, which was externally only, or before his fellow-men.

(3) He still needed the removal of sin from his soul. He had, therefore, now on the eighth day, to bring his sin offering and burnt offering, that with these the priest should "make an atonement for him before the Lord for his issue" (verses l4, 15, 29, 30). Christ is the Healer and Cleanser (comp. Matthew 8:16, 17, with Isaiah 53:4, 5). - J.A.M.

It is not permissible to treat this chapter in any detail; to do so would he to act inconsistently with the very object of the legislation, viz, the encouragement of all delicacy of thought as well as propriety of conduct. But the fact that such a chapter as this (with others like it) is found in Scripture is suggestive and instructive. We gather -

I. THAT PERSONAL PURITY WAS AND IS A MATTER OF THE VERY GREATEST CONSEQUENCE IN THE SIGHT OF GOD. Into the relation of the sexes, and into the thoughts, words, and actions which belong to that relation, sin has introduced confusion and degradation. That which should have been the source of nothing but pure and holy joy has become the ground on which the very worst and most debasing consequences of sin are exhibited. Save, perhaps, in some phases of heathen idolatry, there is nothing in which man has shown so grievous a departure from the will of God, and so pitiful a spectacle of uttermost degradation, as in the realm of the sexual relations. It was the design of the Holy One of Israel to train for himself a people which should be free from the flagitious and abominable corruption into which the heathen nations had sunk. But he desired to go further than this: to promote and foster, by careful legislation, not only

(1) morality in its more general sense, but also

(2) decency of behaviour, and even

(3) delicacy of thought.

The Jews were taught and trained to put far away from them everything that was unclean. With this view it was made unlawful not only for those who had knowingly violated moral laws, but for those who had unwittingly offended the laws of ceremonial cleanness, to draw near to their God or to their fellows.

II. THAT SPECIFIC INSTRUCTIONS THEREON ARE A MATTER OF HOLY EXPEDIENCY. It was needful that the children of Israel should receive particular and precise instructions, for they were to be separated from all surrounding nations in their customs, and so in their character - notably in this matter of purity. Moreover, they were admitted to the near presence of God, and must therefore be clear of all impurity; death would be the penalty of defiling the tabernacle of God (verse 31). Special admonitions and special care are needed:

1. In the case of those who are placed in circumstances of peculiar delicacy.

2. In the case of those who are bound to be above all suspicion of any kind of indelicacy.

3. In the case of the young, who may be led into evil, the magnitude and consequences of which they cannot know. Parental warning, wisely and timely given, may save sons and daughters from much bodily mischief and spiritual suffering.

III. THAT, IN THIS MATTER, WE MUST CONSIDER WHAT IS DUE, NOT ONLY TO OURSELVES, BUT TO OTHERS ALSO. All those details of Divine precept, by which every person and article anywise brought into contact with the unclean man or woman (verses 4-12, 20-24, 26-27) became unclean, bring out the important truth that impurity is an essentially communicable evil. It is so physically; "let sinners look to it." It is so spiritually. How guilty in the very last degree are those who drive a nefarious trade in corrupt literature! How shameful to put indecent thought into print to pollute the young! How demoralizing to the soul, how displeasing to God, how scrupulously to be avoided, the questionable conversation that borders on the indelicate and impure (Ephesians 5:3, 4, 12; Colossians 3:8)! - C.

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