I must admit that, as I began to read Leviticus 15, it all seemed a bit ridiculous to me. I mean, really, if the rule is that "when a man has an emission of semen... he will be unclean till evening" (vs 16), an Israelite man must not have spent many days being "clean." Furthermore, in addition to the rule for men was the law that said menstruating women were also unclean. After this type of ceremonial uncleanness, the men and women were required to bring a sacrifice to the sanctuary in order to "make atonement before the Lord." (vs 15)
The reason for all of this, given in verse 31, was to "keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them." To keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean? How is a man to be separated from emissions of semen — especially when these commonly occur during sleep? And how is a woman to be separated from her menstrual cycle? (Really, I’d like to know!)
As all these questions were swirling furiously in my head, it occurred to me that, perhaps, the "unclean" things God was trying to keep the Israelites from weren’t menstruation and semen emissions. Perhaps the rituals of sacrifice surrounding menstruation and semen emissions were one of the tools God was using to keep the Israelites separated from the things that could really make them unclean.
Did you find that a bit hard to follow? Let me try to elaborate.
I’d like to tell you a little bit about my father. He was a media hawk. He managed to live in the middle of the media road, a road on which many other parents find themselves in one of two ditches — either they ban any kind of media for their children altogether or they practice no type of discerning restraint over what their children are exposed to.
My father was different. He had boundaries for us, and I must admit that, at the time, those boundaries seemed rather restrictive. While most of the peers in my seventh-grade class were listening to bands like Aerosmith and Guns ‘N Roses, I was trying to get my father to let me listen to the latest Wilson Phillips album. (In order to have music approved, he had to thoroughly review the lyrics to make sure there weren’t inappropriate sexual or violent references.)
This was also the case with movies. While my teenage friends were attending PG-13 and R-rated films in the theater, we were watching films on Saturday night at home with my parents — which would promptly be turned off if there was inappropriate matter. I can remember being frustrated more than once when my father felt it was in our best interest to push the "stop" button on the VCR.
When it came to media, my father set boundaries early and often. By setting a close boundary, by carving out the "battlefield" over cleaner films and musical groups, we never even made it to considering the "harder" stuff. That wasn’t even an option. When you’re trying to convince Dad that New Kids On The Block is "innocent" music, you never even think of diving into the realm of Madonna.
I suppose there were times when it seemed a bit unreasonable to me when I was a kid, but I am so, so grateful now. You see, my father knew then what I wasn’t yet aware of: you can put things into your mind, but you can’t take them out. Once you’ve seen it or heard it, it will be there for life. I have learned that lesson the hard way more than once.
I think God was doing a similar thing in Leviticus 15, setting a "close" boundary for the Israelites. Let’s consider some facts here:
1. For nearly all adult men, semen emissions are a given in life. Most are voluntary, but many are also involuntary — happening while the man is sleeping. Therefore, all men would be affected by this law in Leviticus 15.
2. All adult women deal with menstruation. And, of course, this is completely involuntary. Therefore, all women would be affected by this law in Leviticus 15.
Requiring sacrifices for regular, naturally-occurring events (for both sexes) would have easily served as a "close" boundary. God didn’t ask the Israelites to wait until they were dealing with the "harder" stuff — murder, adultery, theft — to bring sacrifices. By requiring them to deal with the "uncleanness" of normal, everyday parts of life, maybe He was hoping their regular interaction with Him over these things would help to keep the heavier sinful acts at bay. If a man’s semen emission or a woman’s period reminded them of their sin and their need for God, maybe they’d be in a mindset to think twice before being led down the path of external temptation.
I must confess that I like this idea very much, because I believe that God’s "close" boundaries are designed to draw us closer to Him. We are accustomed to drawing boundaries that keep things out. But God’s boundaries in our lives are designed to keep us in and close to Him.
I like the idea that the Israelites were summoned to the sanctuary to meet God over events that occurred naturally and regularly in their lives. It was as if God was sending a message to them: "I’m here to be with you in every part of life, not just for sin and evil. I want to be remembered and included in your everyday life — not just when you’ve done something that you feel guilty about."
And so it happened that the Israelites were given a very good reason to think of God often. Frequently. In the course of everyday life. I don’t think that happened by accident.
And I don’t think it’s any less God’s desire today that we remember and include Him in every part of our life — even the mundane things. When He sets "close" boundaries (oh, and He does, early and often), they are still designed to draw us closer to Him and keep us separated from all the things that can truly make us unclean.