This study looks at the cases of bodily discharges, but first, let us introduce ourselves to a NT case study of bodily discharge, in Mark 5:24-34. In Mark 5, the healing of this woman is sandwiched between more spectacular healing -- the healing of the demon-possessed man, and the dead child brought to life. The passage describes the woman's fear and stigma against her clearly. We are told that she "suffered much", "grew worse" and "spent all that she had" (v.26). It was with "fear and trembling" that she approached Jesus, and "fell down before Him and told Him and told Him the whole truth" (v.33). It is not hard to infer how she suffered. Why? It is important for us to understand Lev 15, for it forms the backdrop of this NT encounter.
(A) People shaped by bodily discharge laws
Lev 15 deals with 2 types of people, and we learn about their conditions and when they are declared unclean from this passage.
- Men (v.1-18) who are unclean from chronic bodily discharges (v.1-3), emission of semen (v.16), sexual intercourse (v.18).
- Women (v.19-30) who are unclean from sexual intercourse (v.18), their menstrual discharge (v.24), non-menstrual blood discharge (v.25).
It is important to know that a discharge symbolised unwholeness, and God did not merely have hygiene reasons for giving these laws. Left to our own devices, we would not know what uncleanness is or isn't. Thus, Lev 15 was meant to give us the list of symptoms to identify, much like a doctor diagnosing a patient based on symptoms. But what is so bad about being unclean? To be physically unclean is a reflection of fallenness. Wholeness meant life and a normalcy that God intended for things to have. On the other hand, unwholeness was tied to death and was abnormal. Through these laws then, the people would be taught to prize life, normalcy, and fear abnormality, unwholeness and death.
What does this mean for us today? While these don't apply to us in the same way, we need to still be people that understand and appreciate the basic structure of reality, and prize life, normalcy and wholeness. This world has been designed in a certain way by God. Lev 15 reminds us that we should be concerned with being clean before God? Thus, do you bother to examine your soul with as much attention and detail as you would to your body? Concern for physical cleanness cannot overtake concern for spiritual cleanness.
The passage also says that unclean people run the risk of something else happening to and through them (Lev 15:4-12, 20-24, 26-27). Their uncleanness could affect other things that they come into contact with, and the people around them. It does appear that their uncleanness could contaminate the things around, and seem a bit contagious. As a result of these laws, this creates a society that is mindful of contamination, and being separated from the unclean. Why? Verse 31 summarises it very well for us. Because God tabernacled within their community, they were not worried that something external would come and kill them. Rather, they would be more worried that something external would make them unclean, and because a holy God dwells in their midst, His holiness would not stand this uncleanness and they would die. They were clean because He dwelt in their midst. If they were unclean, they knew that there is no way something unclean would live in the midst of a holy God. God reiterates and applies the same logic in the NT in 1 Cor 3:16. We realise that the focus is not on the outside, but at the centre where the Holy God dwells.
(B) Person shaped by bodily discharge laws
The rest of the Bible picks up on this language of uncleanness. In the book of Isaiah, Isaiah declares woe upon himself, for he saw his uncleanness, and the people's uncleanness (Isa 6:5). His great fear was not that he will miss out on the goodness of life, but that the holiness of God would destroy Him because of his great uncleanness. This is what one who sees the holy God who dwells in the middle of the camp will say. In Isa 5, Isaiah pronounces 6 woes on 6 different groups of people. The seventh one follows in Isa 6, and he counts himself in this too. He doesn't just tell other people that they are wrong, but also acknowledges his own uncleanness. He says that his is a man of unclean lips, although he is a prophet, whose job is to proclaim God's truth! Even though his lips are devoted to God's work, he considers himself an unclean person too. The picture of physical uncleanness unfolds in Isa 6 to also mean something more -- a spiritual one.
This passage shows us that we cannot get clean until we own our uncleanness. All can be unclean -- Lev 15 shows us that both man and woman can be unclean, and Isa 5-6 shows us that the prophet of God knows this too. The Christian who sees God knows that he is unclean, and knows that he needs rescue from God. Isa 6:1-4 describes from us what Isaiah saw and felt, and it scared him.
Why is this important for us? Isaiah helps us realise that we need to own our uncleanness. It doesn't matter that you've "done this before" and said some prayer and was baptized. Isa 6 shows us that we need to know who we really are. This is the secret to growth in the Christian life, and the passion that we see some Christians exude. If we are honest, even on our best days, we do good things with mixed intentions. Our hearts are dark. Each one of the woes pronounced in Isa 5 honestly apply to us too. If we numb ourselves to our sins, we will never be clean. Repentance begins when we stop running away and numbing ourselves. The woman in Mark 5 shows us so much too. She recognised her own uncleanness, and knew that all she needed to do was to get to Him, because just one touch and she could be made clean.
(C) God who gives us bodily discharge laws
Lev 15 shows us that our bodies can be made unclean and point to deeper spiritual realities. But that is not all there is. Lev 15:13-18, 28-30 also tell us how the unclean can be made clean. Those who are unclean needed to offer a sin offering for atonement and burnt offering for devotion. Mark 5 shows us something better in Christ -- one touch and we can be made clean. Jesus is that burning coal in Isa 6 -- touching us does not make Him unclean, but makes us clean. He was broken and pierced for our transgressions. Let us, therefore "draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water" (Heb 10:22)!