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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical

Leviticus 15

Verses 1-33

FOURTH SECTION
Sexual Impurities and Cleansings

Leviticus 15:1-3.15.33

1And the Lord spake unto Moses and to Aaron, saying, 2Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When any man hath a running issue out of his flesh, because of his issue he is unclean. 3And this shall be his uncleanness in his issue: whether his flesh run with his issue, or his flesh be stopped from his issue,1 it is his uncleanness. 4Every bed, whereon he lieth that hath the issue, is unclean: and every thing, whereon he sitteth, shall be unclean. 5And whosoever toucheth his bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. 6And he that sitteth on any thing whereon he sat that hath the issue shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. 7And he that toucheth the flesh of him that hath the issue shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. 8And if he that hath the issue spit upon him that is clean; then he shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. 9And what saddle soever he rideth upon that hath the issue shall be unclean. 10And whosoever toucheth any thing that was under him shall be unclean until the even: and he that beareth any of those things shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. 11And whomsoever he toucheth that hath the issue, and hath not rinsed his hands in water,2 he shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. 12And the vessel of earth, that he toucheth which hath the issue, shall be broken: and every vessel of wood shall be rinsed in water. 13And when he that hath an issue is cleansed of his issue; then he shall number to himself seven days for his cleansing, and wash his clothes, and bathe his flesh in running water, and shall be clean. 14And on the eighth day he shall take to him two turtle doves, or two young pigeons, and come before the Lord unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and give them unto the priest: 15and the priest shall offer them, the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him before the Lord for his issue.

16And if any man’s seed of copulation go out from him, then he shall wash all his flesh in water, and be unclean until the even. 17And every garment, and every skin, whereon is the seed of copulation, shall be washed with water, and be unclean until the even.

18The woman also with whom Man 1:3 shall lie with seed of copulation, they shall both bathe themselves in water, and be unclean until the even.

19And if a woman have an issue, and4 her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and5 whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even. 20And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean. 21And whosoever toucheth her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. 22And whosoever toucheth any thing that she sat upon shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. 23And if it be on her bed, or on any thing whereon she sitteth, when he toucheth it, he shall be unclean until the even. 24And if any Man 1:3 lie with her at all, and her flowers be upon him, he shall be unclean seven days; and all the bed whereon he lieth shall be unclean.

25And if a woman have an issue of her blood many days out of the time of her separation, or if it run beyond the time of her separation; all the days of the issue of her uncleanness shall be as the days of her separation: she shall be unclean. 26Every bed whereon she lieth all the days of her issue shall be unto her as the bed of her separation: and whatsoever she sitteth upon shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her separation. 27And whosoever toucheth those things6 shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. 28But if she be cleansed of her issue, then she shall number to herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean. 29And on the eighth day she shall take unto her two turtles, or two young pigeons, and bring them unto the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the [om. the] congregation. 30And the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for her before the Lord for the issue of her uncleanness.

31Thus shall ye separate7 the children of Israel from their uncleanness; that they die not in their uncleanness, when they defile my tabernacle [dwelling place8] that is among them.

32This is the law of him that hath an issue, and of him whose seed goeth from him, and is defiled therewith; 33and of her that is sick of her flowers, and of him that hath an issue, of the man and of the woman, and of him that lieth with her that is unclean.

TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL

Leviticus 15:3. The Sam. and LXX. here add the clause “he is unclean during all the time his issue runneth or is stopped.”

Leviticus 15:11. According to the Syriac, this washing of the hands was to be the act, not of the unclean person himself, but of him whom he touched.

Leviticus 15:18; Leviticus 15:24. The Sam. adds the possessive pronoun making this “her husband.”

Leviticus 15:19. The Sam and 10 MSS. supply the missing conjunction.

Leviticus 15:19. The conjunction here is omitted by many MSS., the LXX. and Vulg.

Leviticus 15:27. בָּם 5 MSS. read בָּה toucheth her.

Leviticus 15:31. For וְהִזֵּרְתֶּם=ye shall separate, the Sam., 4 MSS., LXX., and Vulg. read הִזְהַרְתֶּם=ye shall warn; but there seems no sufficient reason for the change.

Leviticus 15:31. מִשְׁכַּן properly signifies dwelling-place, and although always rendered tabernacle in Ex. and Lev. in the A. V., needs to be distinguished from the אֹהֶל. Comp. note on Leviticus 8:10.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

The whole of Lange’s Exegetical explanations under this chapter are here given. “1. In his sacrificial law, Moses has throughout translated moral conditions into ritual forms; and he has done this, under the spirit of revelation, truly with wonderful safety, striking precision, and delicacy. Accordingly he here shows the subtle, contagious effects in evil in legal pædagogic images of the sexual impurities, as they incur guilt, or are more or less innocent, in connection with original sin. In so far as our chapter refers back, it forms the climax of the preceding conditions of guilt; but in its reference to the following chapter, it forms the foundation for the idea of a general atonement for the people, still necessary after all the definite single atonements.”

“2. The law carries with it the consequence that all men are placed, by virtue of their manifold connections and contacts, under the sentence: Ye are unclean—unclean even after all more definite atonements. Haggai has drawn out this thought fully; John the Baptist brought it into application (Haggai 2:13 ss., see Com. Matt. p. 68). Hence the great day of atonement must follow all the more special sin offerings, and even this can only suffice for pardonable sins; while the unpardonable sins were sent into the desert upon the he-goat designated for Azazel. The idea of the πάρεσις: Romans 3:0.”

“3. The cases of sexual impurity which are detailed here are the following:”

Leviticus 15:1-3.15.15. Latent flowing of semen, gonorrhœa. In this sense it is called a running issue out of his flesh. This uncleanness of the highest degree, as such, is defiling on every side: touching the bed of the unclean person, his seat, his body, his saddle; being smeared with his spittle, touching anything that passes from him;—all makes unclean in the first degree for one day, and requires a washing of the clothes, and a bath. The purifying quarantine lasts for eight days. Timidly he must approach the sanctuary with two turtle-doves, or young pigeons, one of which was appointed for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering. This disease not only contaminated, but extended its contaminating power to whatever it touched. In Numbers 5:2, it is provided that the person so affected should be excluded from the camp.” [It does not seem altogether certain that the affection here described was gonorrhœa, although it is so translated in the LXX., Leviticus 15:4-3.15.6; Leviticus 15:8-3.15.9, etc. That the word flesh is not an euphemism (Knobel) for the organ of generation is evident from Leviticus 15:7; Leviticus 15:13; still, that the latter is in view as the seat of the issue, is more than probable from the analogy of the woman in Leviticus 15:19, But in regard to the character of the issue itself nothing is said. It could hardly have been hemorrhoidal, since there is no mention of blood; it is not likely to have been syphilitic (gonorrhœa virulenta), notwithstanding the opinion of Michaelis, (laws, art. 212), both because it is more than doubtful if this disease was known in antiquity, and because, if it existed, its presence would betray cause for more severe measures than are here prescribed; it may have been a gonorrhœa arising from weakness, according to the view of Lange, and as supposed by Jerome and the Rabbins; but it is noticeable that there is no mention whatever made of semen in connection with it, and in Leviticus 22:4, this is distinguished from “a running issue.” Or it may have been “more probably, simply blennorrhœa urethræ, a discharge of mucus arising from a catarrhal affection of the mucous membrane of the urethra (urethritis).” Keil; so too, Kalisch. In Leviticus 15:3, a distinction is noticed in the character of the disease which, however, was of no consequence for the purpose in hand; the issue might be continuous, or it might be temporarily retained. In either case the disease was there, and its subject was unclean. Rosenmüller would understand flesh in Leviticus 15:7 to be an euphemism as in Leviticus 15:2, and the law to cover especially the case of the physician. In Leviticus 15:11 a provision is made that the person affected might prevent the communication of uncleanness by his touch, by first rinsing his hands in water; thus showing that the uncleanness communicated was of a symbolical character. Leviticus 15:14-3.15.15 provide for a sin offering and burnt offering, of the humblest kind indeed, but yet here, as everywhere in the law, sufficient to keep alive the association between uncleanness and sin. It is declared that the priest shall make an atonement for him before the Lord for his issue, thus distinctly declaring his uncleanness to have been the ground of an alienation from God, to be removed by a propitiatory sacrifice.—F. G.].

Leviticus 15:16-3.15.17. A single emission of seed was treated as a single uncleanness.” [It is probable that the law had in view an involuntary act; but it would, nevertheless, apply in all cases, and thus its importance in checking the fearful evil of self-pollution needs no comment.—F. G.].

Leviticus 15:18. So too was the result of a man and woman sleeping together.” [This euphemism may possibly be misunderstood. The uncleanness resulted only in case of sexual intercourse, and hence abstinence from such intercourse was a necessary part of preparation for occasions especially requiring cleanness. Exodus 19:15; 1 Samuel 21:5-9.21.6, etc. The law must have operated as an important check upon sensual passions. For proof that the same custom was common among other nations, see Knobel. It is always to be remembered, however, that this defilement is connected with the general sinful condition of man, and did not pertain to his original state. See Genesis 1:28.—F. G.].

Leviticus 15:19-3.15.24. The menstruation was defined as an uncleanness for seven days.” [The actual duration is not normally more than four or five days; but the period of a week seems to be fixed, partly to fully cover all ordinary cases, partly “on account of the significance of the number seven.” Keil. During all this time the woman communicated uncleanness to every person she touched: but especially (Leviticus 15:24) whoever had sexual intercourse with her (for Keil shows that this must be the meaning) became unclean for the full term of her uncleanness, seven days. In Leviticus 20:18 it is provided that in case of such intercourse both parties should be “cut off from among their people,” as having committed an abominable act. The case here provided for must therefore be that of the sudden and unexpected coming on of menstruation, so that the man became unintentionally defiled. But while uncleanness was thus strongly communicated to persons, it only affected among things those on which the woman sat or lay down. She was thus not debarred from the fulfillment of her ordinary domestic duties.

[It has already been noticed under chap. 12 that the provisions of the law in regard to child birth are intentionally separated from the present law in order to mark birth distinctly and emphatically as a subject by itself. The two things may be closely connected naturally; but when there has occurred another beginning of human life, the entrance upon the world of another immortal and accountable being, the event has a gravity and importance which requires its distinct treatment apart from the ordinary, frequently recurring conditions of life.—F. G.].

Leviticus 15:25-3.15.30. The woman diseased with a bloody issue was placed under the same regulation as the man with a flow of semen.” [Blood seems to be used here (as throughout this chapter) for that which has the general appearance of blood, and is popularly called by that name. Hence what is here referred to is an issue of a menstrual character, either out of its proper time, or prolonged beyond its time. This being abnormal required the same treatment, the same exclusion from the camp (Numbers 5:2), and the same offering for its “atonement” as in the case of the man. Ordinary menstruation required no sacrifice.—F. G.].

Leviticus 15:31. The supplement, Thus shall ye separate the children of Israel,etc., shows that these regulations are not merely typical, but also sanitary; that they aim at the duty of sexual purity, both in moral, and in bodily relation. The lying of a than with an unclean woman, Leviticus 15:33; Leviticus 15:24, is to be distinguished from the sexual intercourse (Leviticus 18:19; Leviticus 20:18”). [But see under Leviticus 15:19-3.15.24.—F. G.].

“That of all the impurities the sexual are rendered so prominent, shows the earnest consecration where with the law places the sexual fountain of the natural life of man under the law of chastity and holiness. So also it abhors exceedingly profanations or defilements of this fountain. On this side the rudeness of heathenism spreads through all the centuries of the Christian era like a dark shadow, while the consecration of the sex life was already announced in the centre of Israel in presage of ideal nuptials.” [On the existence of similar ordinances and customs among other nations, see Knobel, Bähr, and the various articles in the Bible Dictionaries.—F. G.].

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

I. All the defilements in this and the preceding chapters are here presented o their theocratic, not on their natural side. Nothing is anywhere said in them of means of cure. The attitude of the priest toward them is not that of the physician, aiming at their removal; but rather of the guardian of the sanctuary, first determining their existence, and then when they have been removed, undertaking the purifications by which the polluted person may be restored to his forfeited privilege of approaching God in His sanctuary, and again mingling with the holy people.
II. The object of the laws of purity is manifestly mainly moral. They may also have incidentally a hygienic purpose, but this is entirely subordinate. The main object is the maintenance of the majesty of God. Nothing impure may appear in His presence, and hence all those bodily conditions which are associated with, and suggestive of impurity, are marked as unclean, and not only the persons affected by them are excluded from the sanctuary, or even from the camp, but all contact with them is to be avoided by the holy people.
III. Very much is often said of the extreme frequency of these defilements, as if the Israelites must, under the operation of these laws, have lived in an almost perpetual state of ceremonial uncleanness. But it is to be remembered that we have in these chapters a collection of the cases of uncleanness provided for, which has upon the mind of the reader something of the effect of the perusal of a medical book; finding so many diseases enumerated, he is apt to suppose a state of disease far more common than it really is. Uncleanness, notwithstanding its apparent frequency when the account of all its varieties is collected together, was still an abnormal state, and in the great majority of cases continued only a short time, being limited by the approaching “evening” at whatever time in the day it may have occurred.
IV. In the Levitical legislation the difference between actual sin and uncleanness which was merely symbolical of sin, is made to appear very clearly. In this chapter particularly, four cases of uncleanness are mentioned, two of which (2–15, and 25–30) were simply diseases, and the other two (16–24) entirely natural and sinless; yet not only did the disease make unclean, but also that natural act or condition, which according to the Divine constitution is necessary for the perpetuation of the race in accordance with His own command. In all this there can be nothing sinful in itself; but as man’s whole condition is sinful, so are these things constituted unclean, thereby to symbolize, and impress upon the mind of man the character of his whole relation to God who is perfect in holiness.

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

The laws of this chapter impose many restraints upon the intercourse of the sexes; that was the will of God shown of old by definite educational precepts. It remains His will still, no longer embodied in such precepts, but announced in general principles. See 1 Thessalonians 4:4.

That the defilements here spoken of were ceremonial and symbolical only, is shown by the fact (Leviticus 15:12) that the earthen vessel was to be broken, while the wooden one (which is also absorptive) was only to be rinsed with water. Had the defilement been actual, the law must have been the same for both. Theodoret.

The especial object of the laws of uncleanness is declared (Leviticus 15:31) to be lest “they defile my tabernacle.” Many things which are natural and right in this our earthly life, are yet unsuitable for the immediate presence of God. Man may, nay, under the Divine constitution of his nature, must do many things which yet are so far apart from the spirituality of the Divine Nature that they evidently need to be widely separated from acts of worship. Yet they are not thereby condemned as sinful, but only there is brought into prominence the infinite distance by which man is separated from God.

“Not only cleanness, but cleanliness also, had its meaning, embodied in religious customs, as the 15th chapter shows, in the most striking features under the law. Uncleanness may exist, even with a considerable measure of religious feeling and good-will in the forms of negligence, of false artlessness, and even of a wild geniality. In the delineation of the endlessly fine and subtle contagious power of uncleanness, there comes into view the whole mysterious connection of mankind in sinfulness, as it has been shown by the prophet Haggai (Leviticus 2:0), and as it lies as the foundation for the baptism of John the Baptist. Thus also this idea of the immeasurable and inscrutable contagion, and of the totality and universality of its guilt, leads to the need and the establishment of the universal and common atonement. It presages an express, great, and single Divine institution.” Lange.

Footnotes: 

Leviticus 15:3; Leviticus 15:3. The Sam. and LXX. here add the clause “he is unclean during all the time his issue runneth or is stopped.”

Leviticus 15:11; Leviticus 15:11. According to the Syriac, this washing of the hands was to be the act, not of the unclean person himself, but of him whom he touched.

Leviticus 15:18; Leviticus 15:18; Leviticus 15:24. The Sam. adds the possessive pronoun making this “her husband.”

Leviticus 15:19; Leviticus 15:19. The Sam and 10 MSS. supply the missing conjunction.

Leviticus 15:19; Leviticus 15:19. The conjunction here is omitted by many MSS., the LXX. and Vulg.

Leviticus 15:27; Leviticus 15:27. בָּם 5 MSS. read בָּה toucheth her.

Leviticus 15:31; Leviticus 15:31. For וְהִזֵּרְתֶּם=ye shall separate, the Sam., 4 MSS., LXX., and Vulg. read הִזְהַרְתֶּם=ye shall warn; but there seems no sufficient reason for the change.

Leviticus 15:31; Leviticus 15:31. מִשְׁכַּן properly signifies dwelling-place, and although always rendered tabernacle in Ex. and Lev. in the A. V., needs to be distinguished from the אֹהֶל. Comp. note on Leviticus 8:10.

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Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Leviticus 15". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/leviticus-15.html. 1857-84.