As we come to the New Testament we find Jesus also speaking in terms of clean and unclean. In Mark 7 we read of the Pharisees and some scribes challenging Jesus as they question why his disciples do not ceremonially wash their hands before dinner, as was the tradition of the elders. Pointedly, Jesus quotes from Isaiah 29 saying: “This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrine the commandments of men.” He goes on to declare it is not what goes into a man that makes him unclean, but what comes out of him. That is to say: the outworking of a man’s thoughts, desires, and affections of the heart.
Through the lens of the teaching of Jesus we see how the purity laws paint a picture of how thorough was the effect of sin upon everyday life. Their primary purpose was not to establish hygiene protocols, but to expose the truth that their lives, by nature, are unclean. As we have already seen, uncleanliness was not necessarily directly tied to sin, but meant as a general picture of sin. It would be difficult in ancient Israel to get through even one day without in some way becoming unclean. Through these laws, God was giving them a daily object lesson demonstrating how corrupted their existence was. This is why David knew he must appeal to, and trust in, a merciful God of steadfast love (Ps 51:1) recognizing he “was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” He knew, in essence, he was unclean from birth. Thus, the hope of Israel was not to be rooted merely in the avoidance of the “unclean”, but humbling seeking and coming to the Lord as their deliverer.
The writer of Hebrews said it this way: “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Heb 9:13,14)”
As you read through Leviticus 11-15, take your time and reflect on how deeply sin affected everyday life in ancient Israel, and likewise, your life today. Then rejoice that you live under the easy yoke of Christ, whose blood has cleansed your conscience, and delivered you from all dead works, to serve our living God!