Did you grow up in a home that taught ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’? I know of a pastor whose wife hung a plaque in the bathroom that read, “Cleanliness is next to impossible.” Now there is a standard I can live down to! In Leviticus 10:10-11, God lays out to Aaron a priest’s duty: “You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the clean and the unclean, and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the Lord has spoken to them by Moses.”
In Genesis 1, God fills the heavens, lands, and seas with various creatures. In Leviticus 11 we get a sense for the impact of sin as animals from each of these categories are deemed “unclean”. Debate continues to this day with the goal of discovering a reasoning or methodology behind God’s clean and unclean decrees. I prefer to follow the adage ‘Do not shout where the bible is silent.’ What we do know is that God commanded Israel to observe these clean/unclean distinctions and says, “I am the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. (Lev 11:44-45)” To Israel, cleanliness and holiness were directly related. To be holy and consecrated was to be clean; what was unclean could not be holy. But lest we think this shows only concern for the external, notice the strength of language God uses in chapter 11: often God calls these things “detestable”, even saying, “you shall detest their carcasses. (v11)” God expected their attitudes and emotions to align with God’s decree, in other words he wanted their heart. In the garden, Eve looked upon forbidden fruit as: “good for food”, “a delight to the eyes”, and able to “make one wise”. God knows that if we see something as good and desirable, we will eat it. In his mercy, he calls his people to detest that which is unclean.
Something to Understand:
The consequences of being unclean where significant. One must be purified, or destroyed. The unclean were isolated outside the camp, apart from the presence of God and his people. In general, how an unholy people where to abide with a holy God is a central theme in Leviticus. In his mercy, God established a system of habits and worship to enable his people to live with him. Submitting to these habits of life and worship is infinitely easier when human hearts align with God’s!