Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentLEVITICUS 15
This chapter deals with uncleanness deriving from sexual discharges of both normal and abnormal natures in both men and women. We may at first be somewhat surprised that normal sexual discharges should be construed as causing uncleanness. However, the mystery of life itself is suggested by these rules, and the thought that even in the sacred right of procreation the animal lusts of mankind so necessary in the exercise of that right nevertheless carried deep and powerful overtones of human depravity and the need of divine cleansing. "There is an almost necessary connection between religion and sex because both belong to the sphere of the sacred."F1
An amazing difference here from previous chapters lies in the fact that they dealt with defiling things that were outside of man, but this deals with "the defiling things that come OUT OF US."F2 Jesus himself declared that it is not what goes into a person that defiles him, but what comes OUT OF him! (Matthew 15:11). Of course, Jesus was speaking primarily of evil thoughts, but there seems to be also an application of his words here. The balance and symmetry of the chapter arrangement here is striking. Two types of discharges, long term and transient, are mentioned with regard to both men and women, and that makes four elements in the chapter. "The discharges of women are discussed in reverse order from those of men, giving an overall chiastic pattern (AB-BA)."F3 Some commentators complain of the placement of this chapter, preferring to connect it with Lev. 12, but it appears to us as appropriately placed here as would be the case with any other placement of it.
Some have also questioned whether or not the word "flesh" (Leviticus 15:2) actually refers to the sex organ, but, of course, it does. As Keil puts it, "The fact that the same term `flesh' (Leviticus 15:19) certainly refers to a sexual discharge points unmistakably to a secretion from sexual organs."F4 Also, Orlinsky, stated flatly that the word "flesh" fails to reproduce the idiomatic force of the Hebrew word [~basar] in this passage, and that it should be translated "member."F5
Two exceedingly important derivations of the rules laid down here were identified by Jellie as, "a ban on self-destroying indulgences, and the impediment to the spread of loathsome diseases."F6
Lev. 15:1-15 deal with some kind of disease;
Lev. 15:16-18 deal with normal discharges;
Lev. 15:19-24 concern normal female discharges; and
Lev. 15:25-30 deal with abnormal or diseased discharges.
And Jehovah spake unto Moses and to Aaron, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When any man hath an issue out of his flesh, because of his issue he is unclean. And this shall be his uncleanness in his issue: whether his flesh run with his issue, or his flesh be stopped from his issue, it is his uncleanness. Every bed whereon he that hath the issue lieth shall be unclean; and everything whereon he sitteth shall be unclean. And whosoever toucheth his bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. And he that sitteth on anything whereon he that hath the issue sat shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. And 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. And 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. And what saddle soever he that hath the issue rideth upon shall be unclean. And whosoever toucheth anything that was under him shall be unclean until the even: and he that beareth those things shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. And whomsoever he that hath the issue toucheth, without having rinsed his hands in water, he shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. And the earthen vessel, which he that hath the issue toucheth, shall be broken; and every vessel of wood shall be rinsed in water.
Shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until even
The six-fold repetition of these phrases in this single passage indicates the archaic manner of presenting such instructions and points to the times of Moses, not to later centuries.
The nature of the "issue" here is disputed, but we find no reason for rejecting the teaching of Wenham: "As early as the Septuagint (circa 250 B.C.) the complaint in question here has been identified as gonorrhea, and most commentators accept this diagnosis."F7 However, Keil denied this. Meyrick stated unequivocally that, "It appears to be identical with the disease called by physicians `gonorrhea', or perhaps `blenorrhea'."F8 To us it seems certain enough that some form of venereal infection must have been meant. The necessity of offering a sin-offering after the initial symptoms disappeared seems also to point in the same direction.
Whether his flesh run. or his flesh be stopped ..
(Leviticus 15:3). Keil rendered this: Whether the member lets the matter flow out, or by closing retains it,F9 it is his uncleanness.
(Leviticus 15:9). Orlinski stated that this word is too restrictive, and that what is really meant is any means of riding.F10
And 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 he shall bathe his flesh in running water, and shall be clean. And on the eighth day he shall take to him two turtle-doves, or two young pigeons, and come before Jehovah unto the door of the tent of meeting, and give them unto the priest: and the priest shall offer them, the one for a sin-offering, and the other for a burnt-offering; and the priest shall make atonement for him before Jehovah for his issue.
These verses deal with the ceremonial cleansing and forgiveness of him that had the issue following a period of confirmation that the disease had subsided and disappeared.
And if any man's seed of copulation go out from him, then he shall bathe all his flesh in water, and be unclean until the even. And every garment, and every skin, whereon is the seed of copulation, shall be washed with water, and be unclean until the even. The woman also with whom a man shall lie with seed of copulation, they shall both bathe themselves in water, and be unclean until the even.
The cases here may be considered one, despite the two manifestations of it, the first involuntary, the second as a result of copulation. Both deal with normal discharges. "It is clear that these instances were recognized as less serious."F11 Viscount Melbourne, a typical Victorian who died in 1848, wrote that, "Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade the sphere of private life."F12 No doubt the same view is characteristic of our own society today, but it is clear enough from these passages that God demands an accounting of His human children in matters that may be regarded as most private and intimate.
The woman also with whom a man shall lie
There is no implication that the woman is NOT the man's wife, or that the marital act is in any way degrading or sinful.F13
And if a woman have an issue, [and] her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be in her impurity seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even. And everything that she lieth upon in her impurity shall be unclean: everything also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean. And whosoever toucheth her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. And whosoever toucheth anything that she sitteth upon shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. And if it be on the bed, or on anything whereon she sitteth, when he toucheth it, he shall be unclean until the even. And if any man lie with her, and her impurity be upon him, he shall be unclean seven days; and every bed whereon he lieth shall be unclean.
This paragraph deals with the normal menstrual period of women. It is not clear why this period was one in which the woman was considered unclean, and yet commentators tell us that the conviction of this was known universally in all nations prior to the writing of the O.T. Certainly the action of Rachel when hiding the idols from her father Laban indicates that the conviction existed that early, and probably much earlier (Genesis 31:34). Sexual intercourse during a woman's period is expressly forbidden (Lev. 18:19; Ezek. 18:6; 22:10).
Note that no sacrifice was required for violations. We appreciate the words of Knight on this Passage:
"Lev. 15:19 implies that a woman's menstrual period is to be respected ... Here we meet with suggestions about tenderness, affection, and self-control in the married state, and the need for the male to respect the rhythmical cycle of a woman's sexual being."F14
It is alleged that the sin of David in taking Bathsheba was aggravated "by the fact that she was purifying herself from her uncleanness"F15 (2 Samuel 11:4).
And if a woman have an issue of her blood many days not in the time of her impurity, or if she have an issue beyond the time of her impurity; all the days of the issue of her uncleanness she shall be as in the days of her impurity: she is unclean. Every bed whereon she lieth all the days of her issue shall be unto her as the bed of her impurity: and everything whereon she sitteth shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her impurity. And whosoever toucheth those things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. But if she be cleansed of her issue, then she shall number to herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean. And on the eighth day she shall take unto her two turtle-doves, or two young pigeons, and bring them unto the priest, to the door of the tent of meeting. And the priest shall offer the one for a sin-offering, and the other for a burnt-offering; and the priest shall make atonement for her before Jehovah for the issue of her uncleanness.
None can say with authority just what the malady described here actually was, but the necessity of the sacrifice points up the seriousness of it. Of intense interest in this connection is the case of the poor woman who had suffered an issue of blood for a period of twelve years (Luke 8:43ff). Although it was contrary to the law for one to TOUCH her, she herself dared to TOUCH Jesus, however, just the hem of his garment. Whereas the TOUCH of such a person would have defiled others, it was not thus with Jesus. His TOUCH did not defile but removed all defilement!
Thus shall ye separate the children of Israel from their uncleanness, that they die not in their uncleanness, when they defile my tabernacle that is in the midst of them.
This is the law of him that hath an issue, and of him whose seed of copulation goeth from him, so that he is unclean thereby; and of her that is sick with her impurity; and of him that hath an issue, of the man, and of the woman, and of him that lieth with her that is unclean."
"These verses summarize this whole section dealing with uncleanness through discharges."F16 The mention of the tabernacle here indicates that one of the principal things pertaining to these regulations was the purpose of avoiding any "unclean" person's having anything whatever to do with the tabernacle ceremonies. That there were hygienic and other valid reasons underlying these laws is also evident.
The first section of Division Three of Leviticus ends here. The second section includes: (a) the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16) and (b) the identification of the place where the sacrifices were to be offered (Lev. 17).
Footnotes for Leviticus 15
1: Nathaniel Micklem, Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 2 (New York: Abingdon Press, 1953), p. 74.
2: Merrill F. Unger, Unger's Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 1, Leviticus (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981), p. 164.
3: Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), p. 217.
4: C. F. Keil, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 392.
5: Harry M. Orlinsky, Notes on the New Translation of the Torah (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1969), p. 214.
6: W. Harvey Jellie, Preacher's Homiletic Commentary, Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978), p. 194.
7: Gordon J. Wenham, op. cit., p. 218.
8: F. Meyrick, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 2, Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 232.
9: C. F. Keil, op. cit., p. 392.
10: Harry M. Orlinski, op. cit., p. 216.
11: Ronald E. Clements, Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, Leviticus (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1972), p. 43.
12: George A. F. Knight, Leviticus (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1981), p. 82.
13: Bernard J. Bamberger, Torah, A Modern Commentary, Vol. 3, Leviticus (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1979), p. 152.
14: George A. F. Knight, op. cit., p. 83.
15: Ibid., p. 82.
16: Ronald E. Clements, op. cit., p. 43.