The Word Made Fresh
1The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, 2“Tell the people of Israel that if a man has an emission coming from his genitals, he is unclean, 3whether the emission is flowing or has ceased. 4His bed and anything he sits on is contaminated, 5and anyone who touches his bed must wash their clothing and bathe in water, and they will be considered unclean until evening. 6Anyone who sits on anything he has sat on must wash their clothes and bathe and be unclean until evening. 7The same applies to anyone who touches the man. 8And if he spits on anyone, they must follow the same procedure. 9If he sits in a saddle it is rendered unclean as well. 10Anyone who touches anything on which he has sat is unclean until evening, and if anyone carries anything on which he has sat, they must wash their clothes and bathe and be unclean until evening. 11Anyone the man touches without first washing his hands must follow the same procedure. 12Any clay container the afflicted man touches must be shattered, and any wooden container must be rinsed in water.
13 “When the man contaminated by an emission is healed, he must isolate for seven days and then wash his clothes and bathe his body in fresh water, and he will be restored to full participation in the community. 14On the eighth day he must bring two turtledoves or pigeons to the sanctuary and give them to the priest, 15and the priest will offer one of them as a guilt offering and the other as a burnt offering, and the priest will pronounce the man clean and he is restored to full participation in the community.
16“If a man has an emission of semen he must bathe in water and be isolated until evening. 17Any material on which the semen falls must be washed and set apart until evening. 18If a man lies with a woman and has an emission of semen, both of them must bathe in water and be isolated until evening.
19“When a woman has her period, she will refrain from the worship life of the people for seven days. Anyone who touches her must stay away until evening. 20Anything on which she lies or sits must be isolated, 21and anyone who comes into contact with it must wash their clothes and bathe and be isolated until evening, 22whether it was something she may have sat upon, 23or her bed. When anyone touches it, they must be isolated until evening. 24If a man has slept with her and her emission touches him, then he is unclean for seven days, and any bed he lies on shall be considered unclean.
25“If a woman has a flow of blood aside from her monthly period, she will be unclean as long as the discharge continues. 26Every bed on which she has lain and everything on which she has sat must be considered unclean. 27Whoever touches any of those things will also be unclean and must wash their clothes and bathe in water and be isolated until evening. 28If her flow of blood discontinues she must wait seven days, and then she may resume normal participation in the community. 29On the eighth day she shall present two turtledoves or pigeons to the priest at the entrance to the sanctuary, 30and the priest shall offer one as a guilt offering and the other as a burnt offering, and she shall be restored to full participation before the LORD.
31In this way you will protect the people from exposure, and they will not die for defiling my sanctuary. 32These are the rules for the man who has an emission of semen, 33for the woman who is isolated because of her menstrual cycle, for any man or woman who has a discharge from their genitals, and for the man who lies with a woman who has a flow of blood.
1-12: Laws governing purification rituals for bodily discharges related primarily to sexual activity are given in this chapter. The first case is that of a man who has a discharge, presumably from his penis. Everyone and everything he touches is considered “unclean.” He and his clothes must be washed. Earthen vessels he touches must be destroyed and wooden ones must be washed. The uncleanness remains until the beginning of a new day at sunset.
13-15: The man with the discharge is “unclean” himself as well as the things he has touched. When the discharge ceases, he is “unclean” for another seven days. Then he must wash his clothes and bathe and to be considered “clean” again. The next day he is to bring two pigeons or doves to the tent of meeting where the priest will offer one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering, and thus makes atonement for the poor fellow.
16-18: If the discharge is seminal, he has to wash everything the semen touches and bathe himself and be “unclean” until the new day begins at sunset. If he is sleeping with a woman, she too must bathe and be unclean until sunset.
19-24: In the same way, a woman’s menstrual cycle renders her unclean and she must undergo similar purification rituals.
25-30: If a woman has a bloody discharge apart from her cycle, she is to be considered unclean along with everything she touches and the prescribed rituals for bathing are followed. When the discharge ceases, she is to observe the same ritual of sacrifices prescribed for the man above.
31: Refusing to follow these rules for purification might prove to be fatal.
32-33: Some see in this chapter stricter rules for women, which they interpret as a sign that women were considered to be of lesser worth, but it is probably not valid to overlay such an interpretation that arises out of contemporary sensibilities. The reason a woman is “unclean” during her monthly period is actually a protection for her, and the prohibition against engaging in sexual activity during that time is as much to remind the husband that God, not he, is her Lord as well as his Lord.
Although these rules seem quaint and tedious to us, they represent a huge step forward in the ongoing war against diseases arising from sexual activity. Rules governing sexual liaisons were actually quite liberal, and as we travel with the people of Israel through the Old Testament and with the people of God through the New Testament, sexual freedoms become more and more restricted. It is almost as if God is gradually moving us toward seeing sexuality as a sacred gift.