YHWH takes a strong stance on defilement. He is Holy, and He cannot have sin in His presence. So when He puts His name on and makes His residence among the people of Israel, it is, must be, and must remain a big deal that the people remain pure. As much as God / YHWH is Love, even more so He is Holy.
So we come to chapter 5. God / YHWH makes it clear, that anyone who becomes defiled cannot be in the camp. They must reside outside of the camp. As such, anyone with leprosy, anyone with a discharge, anyone who has touched a dead person, anyone who was unclean had to be sent outside of the camp. So the Israelites did it. They sent them outside the camp. What’s amazing to me is that this is one of those things that the people of Israel continued to do. They didn’t just do this for a little while and stop. This separation of the defiled from the rest of the people of Israel extended up to the time of the downfall of the city of Jerusalem. We see in Jeremiah that when the Assyrian army was at Jerusalem’s doorstep, it was the leapers and outcasts that were outside of the city walls that went to the Assyrian camp and found that the army had been destroyed. Even when Israel had abandoned almost all of the other laws of YHWH, this is one that remained.
The second part (majority) of the chapter deals with a husband that suspects that his wife has had an affair. If a husband suspects that his wife (who is under his authority) has cheated on him, he has the ability to bring her to the tabernacle and have YHWH pass judgment on whether she has defiled herself. The priest offers a sacrifice and goes through a specific ritual including taking the dust from the floor of the temple and using it as part of a holy water for this woman to drink. The woman makes an oath that she has not been unfaithful and that if she has been, she will be cursed with her abdomen (stomach) growing big, her thigh (fertility) would waste away, and she would be a curse among her people. It was very shameful if she truly had disrespected her husband and marriage by coming out of her husband’s authority. If she had not, then she was truly justified in front of her husband, the priest, and all of Israel.
Whenever YHWH sets a leader over His people, He sets up some pretty high expectations. There are things that the people can do that the leaders must stay away from. Those who act as priests, prophets, and kings are expected to live at a higher standard than those who do not have a direct connection and responsibility to YHWH.
In this chapter those of the priestly line and especially the priests who serve the LORD are instructed that they may not defile themselves by a corpse unless it is a direct family member. Even then, the high priest may not even do that. They may not marry a woman who has been widowed or divorced, or who has slept with any other man at any time in her life. She must be a virgin or he may not marry her. Nor may a priest tear his clothes in mourning or uncover his head. If his daughter profanes herself in harlotry, it rests on him as well. Then finally, if there is any physical defect in a man, He may not serve as priest before the LORD. YHWH even goes so far as to say that if a man has a broken hand or foot, he may not serve the LORD.
Do we take our responsibility in representing the LORD seriously? Do we set ourselves apart from the world, or do we do what everyone else is doing? As people who pursue God and seek His work and will in our lives, we should be living examples of God and His work and will. We should be truly pursuing Him in all holiness.
This chapter is a very controversial chapter and tends to bring up all kinds of questions and debate. In it YHWH deals with defilement (primarily sexual defilement); what defiles the people and what defiles the land. In this chapter YHWH gives instruction for the people not to uncover their relative’s nakedness (or have sexual relations with them). Incest is forbidden including incestual relations between a man and his mother, a father and his daughter-in-law, a man and both a woman and her daughter, and other relations.
There are other issues at work in this chapter as well. For instance there is the command not to uncover a woman’s nakedness during her menstrual period, not to sleep with a neighbor’s wife, and not to sacrifice your child to Molech (this doesn’t happen anymore… does it?). Each of these issues is very important and significant and should in no way be minimized.
However, the most controversial verse in this chapter (according to the current cultural view) is verse 22: “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.” You can see where a big part of the controversy begins here. There are many that say that this passage does not apply anymore due to Christ having fulfilled the law. That since Christ came and died and was raised again, and the curtain to the most holies was torn, we are no longer bound by the law. We do not have to fulfill the sacrificial rules and regulations because Christ became the perfect sacrifice. Since this passage is part of the legal instructions given to the Israelite people, it is completed and fulfilled and no longer applicable to us.
To some extent, that is an accurate (albeit flawed) understanding of Christ’s fulfillment of the law. This entire chapter holds a different kind of sway than most of the rest of the law. It is true to some extent that the law was for the nation of Israel, but this chapter is about what supersedes that law. Verses 24-25 explain this a little bit better:
“Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. For the land has become defiled, therefore I have brought its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants.”
It doesn’t take an exegetical genius to understand that the commands in this chapter aren’t limited to the people of the Israelite nation. These are laws that defy nature itself. They are not limited to the people of Israel. They apply to all people and all time. It is because of these kinds of sins that the Israelites have the right, and the responsibility to not only conquer the land of Canaan, but to destroy its inhabitants as well. The land itself has judged the Canaanites and is spewing them out because of the sins listed in this chapter. The Israelites are simply tools to the fulfillment of that justice.
So how should we respond to those caught up in these kinds of sins? Are we to judge and condemn them? Is that our “right”? I don’t believe so. God says, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” In that passage He is referring to not judging those of the world. That judgment is His, not ours to dole out. However, in I Corinthians 5 we are instructed to judge those within the body that are sinning against the body, and the sin refereed to there is a sin directly related to this chapter. It was a sin being accepted and even praised within the church that should have been condemned. That is a pattern we would be wise to heed. The leaders of the church are responsible for understanding and responding appropriately to sin within the body. In NO WAY should the church be lifting up and encouraging within the body what YHWH has condemned. We are to be the light of hope to the troubled and struggling, not following in the defilement of the world.