Uncleanness and Bodily Discharges

As we are spending the year reading through the Bible, we sometimes come across passages that appear to not “make sense.” On this past Sunday at church, I Uncleanhad a couple of the women in my church ask me why an offering had to be made for a woman’s menstrual cycle. The text in question was Leviticus 15:19-30. Let’s take look at this passage.

Leviticus 15:19-24
19 “When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge in her body is blood, she shall be in her menstrual impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening.  20 And everything on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean. Everything also on which she sits shall be unclean.  21 And whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening.  22 And whoever touches anything on which she sits shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening.  23 Whether it is the bed or anything on which she sits, when he touches it he shall be unclean until the evening.  24 And if any man lies with her and her menstrual impurity comes upon him, he shall be unclean seven days, and every bed on which he lies shall be unclean.

The first part of this passage deals with a woman’s “normal” menstrual cycle. During this time period the woman was considered “unclean” and anything she touched was also considered unclean. There are a number of lessons we can take from this.

First, since everything she touched was also considered unclean, this gave the woman a natural break from her household duties. In other words, she would not be cooking and cleaning during this period because in the process of doing so, she would be making everything she touched “unclean.” So, this was actually a time for the woman to rest from her normal household duties.

Second, the prohibition of sexual intercourse during this time was an indication that sex was not to be an obsession in life (either for the man or for the woman). Sex is a good gift given to a husband and a wife by God. It is to be used for procreation and it also has a unitive function (i.e., it helps the husband and wife to grow closer to one another). But sex is not an all-important activity as our culture wants to make us believe. So, God has a built in “break” from sexual activity between a husband and a wife.

Third, it is important to see that there is no special offering that needs to be made for a woman’s normal menstrual period. This is a natural part of a woman’s biology; no offering needs to be made. This period of uncleanness for the woman is similar to uncleanness experienced by the man when he has an emission of semen (see Lev 15:16-18).

Now let’s look at the remainder of the passage.

Leviticus 15:25-30
25 “If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness. As in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean.  26 Every bed on which she lies, all the days of her discharge, shall be to her as the bed of her impurity. And everything on which she sits shall be unclean, as in the uncleanness of her menstrual impurity.  27 And whoever touches these things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening.  28 But if she is cleansed of her discharge, she shall count for herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean.  29 And on the eighth day she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons and bring them to the priest, to the entrance of the tent of meeting.  30 And the priest shall use one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her before the LORD for her unclean discharge.

A key phrase is found in verse 25, “not at the time of her menstrual impurity.” In other words, this a period of “abnormal” feminine discharge. This would be an indication that something was awry with the woman’s normal menstrual cycle. We need to keep in mind that some of the law codes given to the people of Israel were hygienic in origin. They didn’t speak to the worth of the individual, but they were designed to keep the spread of any potential diseases to a minimum.

When the woman was experiencing an abnormal discharge she was also considered unclean and she remained unclean for eight days after the abnormal discharge stopped. On the eighth day she would take an appropriate offering (verse 29) to the priest who would then offer these to the Lord.

If the abnormal discharge didn’t stop, she remained unclean. This helps us better understand the condition of the woman who reached out to touch the garments of Jesus in Mark 5:25-34.

It is important to stress three things. First, this offering was not for a woman’s normal discharge. The normal discharge is a part of her natural biology. These offerings were for “unnatural” discharges. Second, this is not a sexist part of the Law since this is the exact same process a man had to go through when he had an “unnatural discharge” (see Lev 15:13-15).

And, third, Moses tells us that the reason people to avoid the various issues that cause ceremonial uncleanness was so that they would not defile the tabernacle (15:31). But we live in an age of a new covenant, and we can look back on the old covenant and realize that the laws regarding cleansings has been fulfilled in Christ Jesus. He has entered the holy tent once for all to deliver redemption for all of us (see Hebrews 9:11-12).

For His Glory,

Pastor Brian