“In this way the priest will make atonement before the Lord on behalf of the one to be cleansed.”
Leviticus 14: 31b
Leviticus 14 & 15 (Psalm 34)
In these two chapters sacrificial procedures are detailed which provide cleansing, restoration and atonement. The matters covered include infectious skin diseases, houses suffering from mildew and rot plus the delightful topic of human ‘discharges.’ This latter topic refers to sexual behaviour and to menstruation.
Whilst seemingly complicated and confusing the meaning behind these directions are profound and beautiful. They speak of healing, restoration, and forgiveness through the payment of a debt; atonement (which we considered on Sunday 31st January in our main service).
For example in the case of a skin disease the process describes the awful alienation of a suffering individual who is required to live outside of the camp, the community, because of their illness (14: 3a). If they are healed they are brought to the edge of the camp for cleansing (14: 8-9), before full restoration where atonement is made on their behalf (14: 10-31). Reality exists in the sacrificial process as evidenced by the two birds; one bird dies the other goes free (14: 1-7). This is believed to represent the truth that some will die of these diseases whereas others will live.
These practices were not just meant for God’s people during their time in the wilderness. The process for cleansing a home with mildew demonstrates that these guidelines and instructions were to be followed, and then adapted, for life in the Promised Land as well.
The directions regarding human discharges emphasize the respect that needs to be given to the matter of sex and our bodily functions. They apply with equity to men and women alike and promote cleanliness for the individual, couple and community (promoting health and preventing the spread of disease). The directions uphold the life giving essence of sexual intercourse and the blessing it is to a marriage and community.
There is much we can apply to life from these passages. Firstly, the adaptability of these directions to differing contexts encourages us to see that the bible, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, can answer most questions and be interpreted for application to our current situations.
Secondly the directions for sexual behaviour inspires us to see the joy of this blessing from God with the encouragement to keep ‘it clean,’ and the marriage bed holy (Hebrews 13: 4). Sexual intercourse is not ‘dirty’ but a gift from God, within a marriage, where we respect one another’s bodies and God’s purposes.
The overall process of sacrifice shows us the truth of Jesus’ self-sacrifice of atonement for us. He paid the ransom for our debts (sin and rebellion) so that we may be brought back from alienation to be cleansed and healed then welcomed in to the heart of the eternal community, - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Question of Application
Consider your spiritual journey. Do you see the stages of being welcomed back from being outside the camp (outside a relationship with God); of being forgiven and cleansed; and then of being drawn into full hearted communion with God? Which stage best describes where you are now? Remember we are all works in progress until the Lord completes that labour on His return.
Dear Father we will extol and praise you, always thanking you for your grace and salvation in Jesus Christ. We thank you that you hear us in our affliction; that as we seek you, you answer and deliver us from our sins. In our spiritual poverty we cry out and ask that you save us from our alienation. As we trust you, we thank you that your Son makes atonement for us and delivers us from our distresses. May our faces be ever radiant as we gaze upon you and praise you for your grace. Amen
Adapted from Psalm 34
His Robes for Mine by Chris Anderson and Greg Habegger
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.