Leviticus is a book all about how the clean and the unclean, the authorized and the unauthorized, can never touch. For instance, when Moses teaches the people about the clean and unclean animals, what distinguishes the animals as clean or unclean? Some have argued that there were hygienic components to it, but does that flow naturally from the text itself? Also, how does that square with Jesus declaring all foods clean in Mark 7:19 and God repeating the same truth but applying it to Gentiles in Acts 10? Did hygiene rules really fly out the window overnight?
The distinctions between clean and unclean, while not entirely arbitrary, are not for physical cleanliness but spiritual cleanliness. God is teaching the people through living parables that he is holy, and no unclean or defiled thing can enter his presence.
This also helps us see that the purification rights for childbirth are not arbitrary or oppressive, either. Other cultures and nations in the time of ancient Israel had fertility goddesses and temple prostitution. They worshiped female deities who could “promise” successful childbirth. The Jewish purification rights for childbirth demystify fertility. God closes the womb, and God opens the womb. The ability to birth children is beautiful, but it is not to be worshiped. A woman would follow a rite of purification and make sacrifices as thanksgiving, not have a temple where she would pray to idols. After giving birth, she would offer a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, because it was God who gave her the child, not the fertility goddesses.
The leprosy laws teach us the same truth, that God used everyday conditions to teach about his holiness. He cannot be in contact with anything defiled, which is us in our sinful condition. Lepers were not to be mistreated, but they were a living parable about the holiness of God. That’s why there were regulations for how they could re-enter communal life after the disease had been overcome. Leprosy was obviously not the only disease in the ancient world, but it was selected as a visible representation on the skin of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness.
This is also why Nadab and Abihu are killed. They were sons of Aaron, so they were priests. How much time has Moses spent telling the priests how God has told him how he is to be worshiped? And they have the gall to do it their own way? They think they know better?!
There are two patterns for worship: regulative and normative. The regulative pattern of worship says that the church can only do what is commanded in Scripture when it comes to worship of God. The normative pattern of worship says that the church can worship God however they want as long as it’s not prohibited in Scripture. If we read passages such as Leviticus 10, what do you think God’s perspective is on regulative vs. normative?
The sacrifices were also to be done meticulously. The Day of Atonement had specific regulations, from the animals, to the priestly garments, to the timing. The laws against eating blood are also related to the sacrificial system, which the context indicates. What was blood to be used for? The blood of an animal was to be sprinkled on the altar for sacrifices. The fact the life is in the blood is what gives blood its power. To the one in relationship with God, blood is sacred. Other ancient religions would drink blood as part of rituals. The law of God gives us its true purpose.
The laws against certain sexual relations were put in place for a couple of reasons: they are against nature, and the people who were currently living in the promised land practiced such things. That is also why the prohibition against child sacrifice is mixed in with these laws: it goes against nature, and the people in Canaan practiced it. Again, the point is holiness—God’s holiness. Even the Canaanites knew these practices were abominable, because the light of nature told them. And yet, they are wicked and do horrific things to each other.
Jesus continues to show mercy on diseased people by healing them and forgiving their sins, two things that only God can do. This is the point of the story of the friends lowering another man through a roof to Jesus. Mark tells us, “And when Jesus saw their faith” he forgave the man’s sins. This has given grief to some readers, because it seems as though Jesus is forgiving a man’s sins based on the faith of someone else. But all we’re told is that he forgave the diseased man’s sins, not even that he healed him.
But throughout the Old Testament, healing and forgiveness go hand-in-hand. One of the most commonly used, taken wildly out of context verses in the whole Old Testament is 2 Chronicles 7:14, where God promises to both forgive the sins of the people and heal their land (Israel) if only they will turn to him. Psalm 103 describes God as one who “who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases”. Did Jesus forgive the man based on the faith of his friends and not his own? Of course not. So much is left out of that story that to assume something foreign to the rest of Scripture is to make wild assumptions that don’t jive with the text itself. The point of the passage is that Jesus did two things that only God can do, thereby proving his deity.
The scribes and Pharisees are continually out to get Jesus from the very beginning of Mark’s gospel. They charge Jesus with blasphemy for healing the paralyzed man. After healing the man with the withered hand, the Pharisees decide that he must be destroyed.
Jesus also exorcised a demon out of a man living in the tombs, which made him unclean. The city of Gerasa (hence the Gerasenes) were mainly Gentiles, or Greeks. Once the demons are exorcised, they are sent into pigs. Jesus is immediately targeted by a man named Jairus to heal his daughter, who we find out later was dead by that time. Before getting to the young girl, Jesus is approached by a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years.
All of these details are there to show us that Jesus was among the ceremonially unclean: possessed, Gentiles, pigs, death, and the unstoppable flow of blood. Yet Jesus approached each of these people with mercy and healing. You read in Leviticus about the ceremonial uncleanness of a woman’s normal blood flow, but here Jesus draws near to heal what is abnormal in mercy and grace.
Earlier, Jesus is approached about his position on the Sabbath. Jesus and his disciples are feeding themselves by plucking grain on the Sabbath. The act of plucking grain from the edges of a neighbor’s farm was permitted in Old Testament law, but you could not use a sickle. It's not unlike taking a snack from a friend's fridge. The issue was that reaping grain was explicitly not permitted on the Sabbath. But simply plucking some grain to eat it was completely legal. The Pharisees are just looking for reasons to start a controversy around Jesus. Jesus pulls an Old Testament example of why the Pharisees are wrong in the story of Abiathar and David, in 1 Samuel 21, showing that David did an even more egregious thing by eating the Bread of the Presence, not just grain along the side of the road. Jesus is simply making an analogy.
He reminds the Pharisees that the Sabbath is a gift to humanity. It’s written into creation. Perhaps the most amazing statement is that “The Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” The Sabbath laws were clear and did not need the extra boundaries of the Pharisees, well-intentioned or not.
Jesus himself is charged by the scribes with being demonically possessed. But he shows them the fallacy in their logic. If Satan has possessed Jesus, and Jesus is casting out demons, the Satan’s kingdom is divided and he is losing power. But clearly, through all the possessions that Jesus’s presence has exacerbated, that is not the case.
Only one who is stronger than Satan can bind him. Satan is the prince of the power of the air, so someone who is prince over all the world must destroy him. By casting out demons, Jesus shows that he is more than up to the task (to put it mildly). Jesus fully intends to “plunder [the] house” of Satan and ransom, or rescue, many of those under Satan’s hold.
The scribes were actually the ones guilty of blasphemy by charging Jesus with doing Satan’s work. Blasphemy is the deliberate defiance of God’s Spirit. It is the Spirit who opens the spiritual eyes of the people to see Jesus for who he is, and the scribes are guilty of having their eyes closed.
Psalm 36: God’s steadfast love always follows his people.
Psalm 37: The wicked try to trap the righteous, but God stands up for the righteous.
Psalm 38: I may be crushed, but God hears me and forgives me.
Psalm 39: The Lord is in control of the number of my days.
Psalm 40: Trusting in the Lord brings mercy.