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    Images of the Savior (30 - The Laws of Clean and Unclean)

    And you shall separate the children of Israel from their uncleanness, that they might not die in their uncleanness, when they defile my tabernacle, which is in their midst. – Leviticus 15:31

    The very heart of the Levitical laws, being summed up in this one phrase, “You shall be holy, as I the Lord your God am holy,” signified the need for God's people, in the midst of whom he had condescended to dwell, to be separate from all that was common, or tainted with the manifold deleterious effects of sin and the curse. And of the many ways in which this basic truth was taught to the children of Israel, one of the most instructive was the elaborate system of laws making a separation between the clean and the unclean, and governing the way in which God's people had to go about their daily lives, if they should continue in his presence without being consumed by his wrath. In this symbolic code, we may learn very poignantly, and in very concrete and exemplary fashion, the truth that, if we should be permitted to enjoy God's fellowship, we must distance ourselves from all that is contrary to his nature: God is a God of order, life, wholesomeness, and consistency; and nothing that is chaotic or commingled in a disorderly fashion, nor anything tainted by death or the curse, nor anything unwholesome or abnormal may be found in his presence. We may also learn, moreover, that these unclean elements which God will not tolerate are all around us, ever barring us from his courts; but that he has provided a way to restore, renew, and cleanse us again, and make us separate from the defiling agents of sin and its loathsome consequences. Of course, this cleansing is to be found only in Jesus Christ, as we shall soon observe.

    But let us first treat of the laws themselves a little more particularly. In the first case, we must speak of the dietary laws, which, although the apostles and the Lord Jesus himself have clearly testified to their shadowy and ceremonial nature (e.g. Mark 7:18-23; Acts 10:9-18; Romans 14:14-20; 1 Timothy 4:4-5; Titus 1:15), as teaching of the more solid and enduring principles of separation from sin and moral impurity, many have misunderstood to their own confusion, and have so been brazenly emboldened to make their temporary outward observance binding upon God's people for all time, or to treat of them as being primarily a wise and salubrious code for public health and hygiene. But in this way, they lose all their instructional value and moral significance, and may indeed become a heavy yoke and an obscurer of the very gospel truths they were intended to convey. But if they did primarily teach of moral purity and cleansing, in what ways did they do this?

    We must notice, that of all those animals which were declared to be unclean, there was some close connection, whether real or accidental, to some actual effect of sin. Most notably, those animals very closely associated with death were to be shunned; and so, birds or animals of prey, who killed other animals, or else feasted upon carrion, were unexceptionally unclean (see Leviticus 11:13-20). And in fact, even those animals which were otherwise unclean, but had been torn by beasts of prey, were thereby rendered unclean and unfit for consumption (Exodus 22:31; Leviticus 17:15; 22:8). Then, those animals that were in some manner reminiscent of the curse were considered unclean as well, such as the creeping and crawling insects, which writhe about in the dirt of the ground, and so evoke images of the Serpent, who was cursed to slither about without legs, and eat the dust of the ground (Leviticus 11:23-31); but only those insects which had legs with which to jump above the dirt, and so to separate themselves from the curse, that is, locusts and grasshoppers, were clean and could be eaten (Leviticus 11:21-22). Likewise, of the beasts of the field, only those that were markedly separate from death and the curse were clean and fit for food: thus, those beasts that chewed the cud, and so ate of that which was separated from the cursed and dirty ground by a twofold measure; and who had also cloven hooves, and were thus separate from the ground, and had no contact with it through any fleshly pad or membrane, were alone clean (Leviticus 11:1-8). Then again, those animals were only clean that were normal and representative of their class; thus the fish that had scales and fins could be eaten, but those abnormal and deviant variations, which had not one or the other, were unclean (Leviticus 11:9-12). In this way, God taught the children of Israel that sin, which had given rise to death, the curse, the moral impurity and filth of the world, and abnormal perversions and deviations of all kinds, was to be strictly avoided, if they would be found in his presence.

    In addition to the dietary laws, God enjoined other similar ceremonial laws upon his people, which taught much the same thing: for instance, the law not to wear a garment of mixed fabrics, or to sow a field with mixed seeds (Leviticus 19:19) taught that God is a God of order, and will not admit any confusion in his presence. And so we have later been instructed that all things we do in his service are to be done decently and in order; and that God is not a God of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33, 40). Then, any contact with dead bodies rendered a person unclean, and required that he be washed and purified before entering the tabernacle (Leviticus 11:39-40); which very obviously teaches the need of separation from the effects of sin, of which the most outstanding is death. Likewise, the uncleanness which came from a woman's menstrual flow, which signified the blood-guiltiness of Adam's race from birth, in that the very process of new life and procreation is marked by an unnatural discharge of blood, spoke of the filthiness of all humankind from conception; and in the same way, the uncleanness that inhered in any discharge of semen spoke of much the same thing (see Leviticus 12; 15:16-24). And then, as the climactic and outstanding of all these shadowy laws, the most poignant case of all was that of leprosy (Leviticus 13-14). How graphically is the loathsome, disfiguring, filthy, and unwholesome consequences of sin painted in the terrible disease of leprosy! There, a vile principle of destruction slowly consumes all that was originally sound and healthy in a person's body, and becomes ever more abominable by degrees, until it finally brings forth death; and furthermore, it spreads to others all around, so that the leper had ever to cover his face and cry out “Unclean!”, and hide himself from all around him, that they might not be infected too (Leviticus 13:45-46). This is a figure for what sin is always doing in our souls; and there is no cure for it, and no purification can be found in any water or medicine from any source on earth. It spreads and destroys and is unstoppable in its insidious intent.

    But this last and most telling case in the laws of clean and unclean leads us straight to the foot of the Savior. For all others, when they touched a leper, became at once unclean themselves, and so the sickness spread from sinner to sinner, and all were likewise consumed. But Jesus, when he had once touched a leper, made him clean and whole, and pronounced him fit to go before the priests in the Temple (Matthew 8:1-4). Brothers and sisters, there is a river, the waters of which make the leper pure and the filthy clean! To the world's eyes, it is dirty and small and unwholesome, so that the proud and self-reliant will never go there: but those that wash in this river are made clean indeed, and are brought before the presence of God. This river is not ultimately the Jordan, which in an event of suggestive and shadowy mercy brought healing to the body of Naman the leper (2 Kings 5); no, it is only that stream which flowed from the riven side of Jesus the Savior, who embraced us, took within himself all our impurities, put them all – sin, filth, corruption, and death itself – to their final death, and now sends forth a cleansing stream for all who would drink of him, and so be made whole. Oh, let us run to the Savior, if we would ever be free from the uncleanness which is all around us, and operative in our very souls, and leading us to the brink of death and ostracism from the holy people of God.

    But let us note, in closing, a little more of the Savior's teaching about the laws of clean and unclean. We must notice, first of all, that in his ministry on earth, Jesus proclaimed that no foods can truly make a man unclean, for they only enter his belly and pass out into the waste; but that unclean foods represent those things which truly do make one unclean, and which he cannot escape, for they are in his very soul, those unclean thought and lusts and passions which pour themselves forth from the lips in a horrid stream of lies, slander, and hatred, and impel all the bodily members to the grossest acts of vile corruption and sin (Mark 7:14-23). Let us follow the old dietary laws never so minutely, and proclaim as Peter that nothing unclean has entered our mouth – but who shall deliver us from this internal uncleanness of thoughts and deeds? So that, far from purifying us, the old laws only taught us of our desperate need.

    But secondly, not only did Jesus teach us of the eternal truths and principles to which the shadowy laws testified, but he also effected the eternal and essential cure which those same laws held forth in ceremonial form only, viz., washing and purification from that which is sinful and unclean indeed. Ah, how great an accomplishment, how salutary to our spirits and laden with the blessed prospects of eternal life and joy in his presence, has our sin-bearing and filth-purifying Savior wrought! So it is, today, that having redeemed all of creation for its intended use, in earnest of what he will do in full measure someday, when he creates a new heavens and new earth where righteousness will dwell (Isaiah 65:17-25; Romans 8:19-21; 2 Peter 3:13), he purified all meats, and more to the point, purified our own souls, so that with thanksgiving and purity of heart we might enjoy all his creation to his glory (1 Corinthians 10:31), knowing that, as we have been made pure, all things are now pure to us (Titus 1:15). Let us press on, then, in the hope of glory, coming out from among the unclean world of sin and perversion, touching none of their moral uncleannesses (2 Corinthians 6:14-18), but rather shining as a light in a crooked generation (Philippians 2:15), until we finally arrive at that home which Jesus has purchased for us, where nothing that is unclean shall ever defile its borders (Revelation 21:27; 22:15).

    Posted by Nathan on October 31, 2008 11:04 AM

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