Leviticus. It’s that book that has derailed every read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan since the Bible was printed. Somehow, by the grace of God, I muscled my way through it while doing that Bible reading plan I always recommend, but truthfully it was just wholehearted confusion, one chapter at a time.
But several months ago, I finished Nancy Guthrie’s Bible study, The Lamb of God. It’s part of her “Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament” series, and this one walked through Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. And, believe it or not, my favorite chapter was on Leviticus.
I think one of the reasons Leviticus derails so many of us is all the laws regarding cleanliness. What is clean? What is unclean? It all seems so arbitrary, and if we’re honest, so offensive. Why should a menstruating woman be considered unclean? Or someone with a debilitating illness? Both are completely beyond their control. Where’s the compassion? What is God’s heart behind declaring a person “unclean”? Guthrie explains,
“All of these disorders provide a graphic demonstration of the effects of the curse on all of humanity and the entirety of creation[.] Disease and decay are a major feature of living in a fallen and cursed creation…’The Living God sees all these intruders into His wonderful creation and reassures us, through these laws, that one day he will certainly drive these squatters out.'” (204)
She goes on,
“Leviticus is a living picture of God’s rejection of the effects of sin on humanity and creation and his intention to one day set everything right. Every day, as you avoided what would make you unclean or dealt with what had made you unclean, it would be a reminder to you that the Lord had not forgotten how he made the world before human sin and that he will not forget his promise to make all things new.” (204)
A Bible story often visited among women is the bleeding woman of Mark 5:25-34 (also in Matthew 9:20-22 and Luke 8:43-48). We love the stories where Jesus meets a woman personally and compassionately, affirming her worth and dignity. So we love this story for that reason, which is true and good. But there is so much more happening here! After studying Leviticus, I love this story not just because of Jesus’s character (though it is a great picture of that) but because of the greater reality to which it points.
This bleeding woman is not just sick, she is ceremonially unclean according to Levitical law (Lev. 15:25). Nancy Guthrie explains:
“Jesus alone is our promise of cleansing. Jesus, the ultimate clean thing, was continually touching unclean things…[In Mark 5] a woman who had a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind Jesus in a crowd and touched his clothing. When he asked who had touched him, Mark tells us she came ‘in fear and trembling.’ Why was she afraid? She was afraid because she had made him ceremonially unclean just by her touch. But Jesus recognized this for what it was – reaching out to take hold of the health and wholeness found only in him – in other words, faith…He reaches out to touch us, taking upon himself our sin sickness and uncleanness, imparting to us his health, wholeness, and acceptance. We are cleansed because the Holy One of God became unclean for us.” (208-209)
What God labels as “unclean” in Leviticus gives us a tangible picture of sin: the effects of sin in the world, the dark, incurable sickness of our hearts. And yet–yet!–while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
He took my mess upon Himself. My uncleanness. My need to be purified. And He took it to the cross.
Because of Christ, we who are unclean are declared clean! Not because we’ve offered purification sacrifices, or because we’ve cleaned up our acts and made our lives “just so.” Not even because we don’t do certain things any more. No, we are clean because, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).