Summary: The Israelites were taught to use water, a waiting period, and sacrifice to cleanse themselves. We too have the gifts of water (baptism), savior of all time and the final sacrifice.
Opening and Introduction
I grew up in West Texas in a place called Big Spring. It’s a small town with tumbleweeds, oil wells, and loose dust that turns into a dust storm when the wind really starts blowing. One of our really big problems was water, and the water that we had was really hard. If you left a glass of water out and let it evaporate, you would get a crust of minerals in the glass. That residue also showed-up where ever water might sit.
Sometimes cleaning the built-up minerals around our sinks were really tough and we had to use something called Lime Away. It’s a smelly cleaning agent that sometimes worked. It felt like it was the only way, short of a jack-hammer, that we could keep our sinks and bathrooms clean.
Tonight’s message kind-of relates to that type of cleaning problem. When the Israelites became unclean, they had to work through an often-lengthy and difficult process to purify themselves. We too have tough problems that are hard to get out of our lives. Yet we have a different way to clean up our act.
To help us learn more about God’s standard of cleanliness, we’re going to take a closer look at how Leviticus defined it. We’ll also look at what Jesus had to say about it, and see what we can learn too.
Let’s start with the tabernacle. It was where God’s presence dwelled. It was vital to keep unclean things away, from Holy God. Or to put it another way, to make the people acceptable before God. God gave a reason for this. He said:
For I am the LORD, who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God, so you must be holy because I am holy. (Leviticus 11:45, CSB)
A few stories show us that when his standards weren’t followed, God was offended, and the result was death. Last week we heard a story about two priests, Nadab and Abihu, who were stuck dead, because they offered unauthorized fire.
In another time, a man named Uzzah helped transport the Arc of the Covenant in a disrespectful way. He wasn’t supposed to touch the Arc. But he did. And when he did, God struck him dead too.
God’s holiness is serious business. Cleanliness wasn’t just a suggestion. It was a requirement. There are only two standards. Either you’re clean, or you’re not; there’s no in-between.
People are prone to error. And the Israelites often became unclean from mistakes they made, or situations that they got into. Each situation of un-clean-ness, required a slightly different method to fix things. Leviticus outlined these different methods to make someone, or something, clean.
Sometimes, a person or an object, required WASHING WITH WATER. If a wood, cloth, or leather object became unclean, it had to be cleaned in water before it could be used again for any purpose in a house. For example, a wood item that touched an unclean animal, such as a dead mouse, would have to be soaked in water to clean it.
Some unclean problems required a TIME PERIOD from a few hours, to a few weeks. Many conditions repeated a similar pattern with the phrase “shall be unclean until evening”. Touching unclean insects and animals required this waiting period. Skin problems required eight days, longer if there was a real problem of disease. Childbirth was quite hard on mothers. She was unclean for 40-days when a boy was born, and 80-days for a girl.
In addition to washing and waiting, many unclean conditions required a SACRIFICE. For some an animal was completely burned up. For others, select portions were burned. Sometimes the people took a portion of the offering home with them. And sometimes the offering went to the priests. In all cases, the priest offered the sacrifice to God, on behalf of the people who presented them. The people couldn’t do this part on their own.
The idea of cleanliness, and an understanding of holiness, shaped society as the chosen people of God. The Israelites, were to keep themselves clean and pleasing to the Lord. To do that, they had to know God’s Word, and they had to obey it.
The priests taught the people, and parents were to teach their children. The purity laws reminded God’s people of the responsibilities they had. The unclean people who didn’t follow the rules, were cut off from society:
If a person who is unclean does not purify himself, he must be cut off from the community, because he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD. (Numbers 19:20, NIV 84)
With the standards enforced so tightly, cleanliness was not just done on sabbath days. It was done every day. It was a lifestyle. It was continually focusing on being the chosen people of God.