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.
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.
31 “Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst.”
32 This is the law for him who has a discharge and for him who has an emission of semen, becoming unclean thereby; 33 also for her who is unwell with her menstrual impurity, that is, for anyone, male or female, who has a discharge, and for the man who lies with a woman who is unclean. – Leviticus 15:19-33 ESV
In the second half of this chapter, God turns His attention to the women among His people, but He specifically addresses those of menstruating age. Verses 19-24 deal with the monthly menstrual cycle of women of childbearing age. According to dictionary.com, this involves the “recurring monthly series of physiological changes in women…in which an egg is produced in the process known as ovulation, and the uterine lining thickens to allow for implantation if fertilization occurs. If the egg is not fertilized, the lining of the uterus breaks down and is discharged during menstruation.”
This recurring change in the woman’s body is completely normal and natural, but it entailed the loss of blood. This discharge of bodily fluid and blood rendered the woman temporarily and ceremonially unclean. And anyone or anything that came into contact with her was to be declared unclean as well. So, the woman was to be quarantined for seven days after her period, as a form of protection and a time of purification. Since this was a normal bodily function, there was no guilt associated with it, and, therefore, no sacrifices were required. At the end of the seven-day period of purification, she was to bathe and then she was free to return to normal communal life and worship at the Tabernacle.
This law would have also served as a form of protection for unmarried young women, placing them in forced solitude for a period of seven days each month. And during their menstrual cycle, they were to be considered off-limits and ceremonially “contagious” to everyone around them, including any potential suitors. The risk of becoming unclean would have served as a powerful deterrent to young Hebrew men who might otherwise allow their lusts to motivate their decision-making. Each of God’s laws, which oftentimes appear heavyhanded and harsh to our modern sensibilities, were divinely inspired and far from arbitrary in nature. There was a logical reason behind each and every one of them. But the main focus was always the holiness of God and the need for His chosen people to understand the difference between that which He deemed to be holy and that which He considered as common and therefore, unclean.
All women on earth experience a menstrual cycle, but not all of them are considered part of God’s chosen family – the nation of Israel. And while menstruation was not a sin, it did end up ceremonially separating the female members of God’s family from Him. But by following God’s commands, they could be cleansed and restored to fellowship. Their separation was only temporary. But for the rest of the world, their “earthiness” and “commonness” rendered them permanently separated from God. They were not privileged to be a part of God’s holy nation. Because of sin, they lacked wholeness and holiness. And while God’s chosen people would also experience the unwholesomeness of disease and the inconvenient reality of bodily discharges, those conditions would not render them permanently separated from their Creator. God had provided a way for cleansing and atonement.
This leads to the next section dealing with female bodily discharges. Verses 25-30 provide instructions regarding chronic or more serious discharges.
“If a woman has a flow of blood for many days that is unrelated to her menstrual period, or if the blood continues beyond the normal period, she is ceremonially unclean.” – Leviticus 15:25 NLT
This was to be considered something abnormal and unnatural. If the woman’s issue of blood continued long past her normal cycle, it was to be treated as a disease or disorder, and sacrifices were required for purification. This would have been an intimate and highly personal problem for the woman and unknown to anyone but her parents or husband. It would have been tempting to leave the matter undisclosed and simply go about her life at the end of the normal seven-day purification process. But the continued presence of blood would have rendered the woman impure and a threat to the holiness of all those around her. This concern for the corporate well-being of the nation was behind all of these purification laws. There was also the very real threat of an “unclean” woman entering the Tabernacle and defiling it with her presence. So, God provided detailed instructions designed to prevent further contamination and to ensure proper purification – for the sake of the woman and the entire faith community.
“On the eighth day she must bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons and present them to the priest at the entrance of the Tabernacle. The priest will offer one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. Through this process, the priest will purify her before the Lord for the ceremonial impurity caused by her bleeding.” – Leviticus 15:29-30 NLT
Each of the synoptic gospels contains the story of Jesus encountering a woman who suffered from a chronic disorder much like the ones described in Leviticus 15. In his gospel account, Matthew records this encounter as follows:
…a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him [Jesus] and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” – Matthew 9:20-21 ESV
According to levitical law, this ailment would have kept the woman out of fellowship and unable to worship at the temple. For 12 years, she had suffered in seclusion and sought relief from her forced separation from normal life and her lack of access to God’s house. She saw Jesus as a possible source of help. She had heard about His healing powers but was afraid to approach Him because of her unclean status. So, she decided that if she could only touch His garment, she might receive healing. But, in doing so, she would have risked making Jesus impure. Yet, her helpless and hopeless condition pushed her to take that risk.
And when she reached out and touched His garment, Jesus turned and spoke to her.
“Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” – Matthew 9:22 ESV
And Matthew records that the woman was instantaneously made whole. Jesus spoke and she was healed. Her chronic issue of blood was completely irradicated and her ceremonial impurity was fully eliminated. She was restored to wholeness, returned to fellowship, and rewarded with full access to the house of God.
In verse 31, God provides the reason behind all these difficult-to-comprehend laws and regulations.
“This is how you will guard the people of Israel from ceremonial uncleanness. Otherwise they would die, for their impurity would defile my Tabernacle that stands among them.” – Leviticus 15:31 NLT
Uncleanness was a threat to the communal life of the people of Israel, and it was deadly dangerous to treat this threat flippantly. These laws were not suggestions. God was serious about the holiness of His people and wanted them to know that their status as His chosen people was closely tied to their understanding of what He considered to be holy and what He had declared to be unclean. They were not free to make that distinction themselves. He was not willing to let them decide for themselves. His demand for holiness was real and obedience to His laws was the key to remaining in a right standing with Him. But because He knew His people would find it impossible to remain pure while living in a fallen world, God provided a way to keep their defilement from impacting the entire faith community. He also provided the means by which the unclean could be made whole again and restored to a right relationship with Him – through the sacrificial system.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.