In our previous post, we wrote on the law of Niddah and some other relevant commandments. We have learned how uncleanness brought about by normal physiological functions or illness can cause separation. This compelled us to question the spiritual implications of this. We know there is a physical and a spiritual side to everything. Sometimes, what we perceive as negative in the fleshy realm can actually be beneficial or positive on either a physical or spiritual level. Is this the same with uncleanness? Furthermore, knowing that there is a physical and a spiritual realm, how does physical uncleanness affect us spiritually, if at all? In a future article, we will endeavor to answer the question: How was all this impacted by Y’shua’s death and resurrection?
We shall first define uncleanness by looking at how the word was used in context.
What is uncleanness?
In Hebrew, the word “tamei” is translated as “unclean” and means the following according to the Dictionary of Biblical Languages with semantic domains:
3237 I. טָמֵא (ṭā·mē(ʾ)):
- be unclean, be defiled, i.e., be ritually impure (Lev 5:3);
- made unclean, defiled, impure (Lev 11:43);
- make unclean, defile, desecrate (Lev 11:44);
- defiled (Eze 4:14+);
- make oneself unclean, defile oneself (Lev 11:24);
- be defiled (Dt 24:4+); 2. LN 88.271–88.282
- improper sexual behavior, formally, defiled, i.e., initiate or receive improper sexual contact, and so be socially and ceremonially defiled (Nu 5:13), note: for another parsing in Mic 2:10, see 32391
Uncleanness is defilement or ritual impurity. We find many instructions in the Bible regarding uncleanness.
Why is there such a focus on clean and unclean in the Bible?
We find the first reference in Gen 7:2, where YHVH gave Naoh, the instructions about the animals that were to go into the ark. From this, we can deduce that the distinction between clean and unclean was known from very early in Biblical History.
In Ex 19:14-15, we see YHVH instructing Moses to consecrate the people, which included the washing of their garments and abstinence from marital relations. Later, the priests were instructed to teach the people to discern between clean and unclean (Lev 10:10). Throughout Scripture, we see a definite focus on the distinction between clean and unclean.
Why is this of importance to us? What can we learn from this and how are we to apply it to our lives?
What do most of these instructions have in common? These instructions are about being set apart. To be set apart is a standard that is required of YHVH’s people. We have to be set apart, in order to be able to stand in the presence of the Most High. Consider these verses in Leviticus:
44 ‘For I am YHVH your Elohim. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. And you shall not make yourselves unclean with any of the swarming things that swarm on the earth. 45 ‘For I am YHVH who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your Elohim; thus you shall be holy, for I am holy.’ ”
2 “Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I YHVH your Elohim am holy.
26 ‘Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I YHVH am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine.
The instruction in Leviticus 11, was given by YHVH after He gave the dietary instructions. The second reference, Leviticus 19:2, is in the context of keeping the commandments. In the third reference, we find YHVH referring to both keeping the commandments and not making ourselves unclean by any unclean thing. Why is the context significant? We shall get back to this…
We first need to go one step back. We are instructed to consecrate ourselves and be holy…What does it mean to consecrate oneself?
The Hebrew word “qadas” is translated as “consecrate”
7727 קָדַשׁ (qā·ḏǎš): v.;
- be sacred, consecrated, i.e., dedicate to service and loyalty to God, and so involving proper conduct (as prescribed) of any person or object so dedicated (Hag 2:12);
- be consecrated (Ex 29:43);
- consecrate, dedicate (Ge 2:3);
- be dedicated, be consecrated (2Ch 26:18; 31:6; Ezr 3:5; Eze 48:11+);
- set apart, consecrate, dedicate, regard as holy (Lev 22:2);
- consecrate themselves (Ex 19:22);
- be holy, i.e., be in a state of having superior moral qualities, with behavior which is positively unique and pure, in contrast to other corrupt standards (Isa 65:5);
- show oneself holy (Lev 22:32);
- make holy (Lev 20:8);
- regard as holy (Isa 29:23b);
- show holiness (Eze 38:23);
- saints, God’s people, i.e., pertaining to persons who belong to God, and as such constitute a religious entity (Isa 13:3+);
- honor as holy, i.e., feel reverence to honor something or someone as holy (Isa 8:13)
To be consecrated is to be set apart, to be dedicated, holy. To “be in a state of having superior moral qualities, with behavior which is positively unique and pure, in contrast to other corrupt standards.“1
YHVH our Elohim, instructed us to be holy, because He is holy. To be holy is a commandment. How do we keep this commandment?
We are to set ourselves apart, dedicate ourselves to Him and be holy. This is where the significance of the context comes in, that we looked at just before the definition of consecrate. According to the Scriptural context, we set ourselves apart by keeping YHVH’s commandments and by abstaining from anything that can make us unclean.
This said, we need to know what can make us unclean.
What causes uncleanness?
Uncleanness is a state that can be caused by various actions or conditions. Let us look further into this.
We can categorize uncleanness as follows:
- Through transgression of the food laws or touching the carcass of an unclean animal (Lev 11)
- Through physiological functions or illness (a woman’s monthly cycle, childbirth, seminal emission, illness connected to the reproductive system and leprosy.)
- Through contact with an unclean person or object
- Through contact with a dead body
- Sin and we know sin is transgression of the law 1 john 3:4
Where do we get this notion of spiritual uncleanness from?
17 “Son of man, when the house of Israel was living in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their deeds; their way before Me was like the uncleanness of a woman in her impurity. 18 “Therefore I poured out My wrath on them for the blood which they had shed on the land, because they had defiled it with their idols.
To defile is to make unclean. The word translated as “defiled” is “tamei.” We see how the land was made unclean by their ways and deeds and how they made themselves unclean with their idols.
Some forms of ritual uncleanness also results in spiritual uncleanness. When we choose to eat or touch unclean things, we cause spiritual uncleanness, as well as ritual uncleanness. Why? Because we are transgressing YHVH’s commandment not to eat or touch any unclean thing. Uncleanness caused by illness, childbirth, physiological functions and death, on the other hand, does not cause spiritual uncleanness. It is part and parcel of being human, although it causes ritual uncleanness.
We shall now look at each of these causes of uncleanness briefly in order to further our understanding.
Touching the carcass of an unclean animal
YHVH has given us very specific commandments regarding clean and unclean animals in Leviticus chapter 11. For some more explanation, please read “To eat or not to eat, what is the Scriptural standard.“ Clean animals were given as food and eating unclean animals is called an abomination. We are also instructed not to touch the carcass of an unclean animal.
Transgressing these commandments leads to uncleanness. Some may say that it is really of no importance to us, because it only causes uncleanness. Can those who believe that, answer the following question? Shall we violate a direct commandment from YHVH, because the punishment seems inconsequential to us?
We believe that we are still to adhere to these instructions. Eating of or touching the carcass of unclean animals, causes not only ritual uncleanness, but also spiritual uncleanness. Spiritual uncleanness is caused by transgressing YHVH’s commandments. This is very important to remember…we shall get back to this.
Our previous article covered this topic to some extend, so you can refer to “Family purity and the law of Niddah” for more detail.
In summary, we have learned that certain physiological functions and illnesses will cause ritual uncleanness. In these cases, no spiritual uncleanness results as it is not sin.
Touching a dead body
When a person dies, his loved ones will come in contact with his or her lifeless body. We are not commanded, not to touch or not to come into contact with a dead body. The only people commanded not to come in contact with a dead body are the priests and High priest. The priests may have contact with the body of his mother, father, children, brother or virgin sister (Lev 21:1-3). The High priest may not even tear his garments or go out of the holy place when a relative has died.
Death is a part of life, and someone has to bury the dead. However, when we do, it causes ritual uncleanness and there are certain instructions that are to be followed in order to be cleaned.
11 ‘The one who touches the corpse of any person shall be unclean for seven days.
14 ‘This is the law when a man dies in a tent: everyone who comes into the tent and everyone who is in the tent shall be unclean for seven days.
Firstly, a person who comes in contact with a dead person will be unclean for seven days. Hereafter, purification takes place in accordance with the purification ritual described in Numbers 19:17-22. In this ritual, the unclean person and the tent (as well as objects in the tent),where the dead body was in, is sprinkled with water mixed with the ashes of the burnt sin offering (red heifer). Only after this, was the person who was in contact with the dead person purified. Not following this procedure will result in being cut off from your people.
20 “If the man who is unclean does not cleanse himself, that person shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, since he has defiled the sanctuary of YHVH. Because the water for impurity has not been thrown on him, he is unclean. 21 And it shall be a statute forever for them. The one who sprinkles the water for impurity shall wash his clothes, and the one who touches the water for impurity shall be unclean until evening.
It is interesting to note that the one who cleanses this person, becomes unclean until evening. Another interesting point is that YHVH made provision for a second Passover, a month later, for anybody who is unclean at the time of Passover.
Contact with an unclean person or object
We have seen before how touching anything unclean will result in uncleanness. This person is purified of this uncleanness by washing and passing of time (till evening). However when this happens unknowingly and he finds out about it, he must bring a sin offering also.
2 ‘Or if a person touches any unclean thing, whether a carcass of an unclean beast or the carcass of unclean cattle or a carcass of unclean swarming things, though it is hidden from him and he is unclean, then he will be guilty. 3 ‘Or if he touches human uncleanness, of whatever sort his uncleanness may be with which he becomes unclean, and it is hidden from him, and then he comes to know it, he will be guilty.
Purification is required, even in a case of becoming unclean unintentionally. He is to confess his sin and bring a sin offering.
5 ‘So it shall be when he becomes guilty in one of these, that he shall confess that in which he has sinned. 6 ‘He shall also bring his guilt offering to YHVH for his sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement on his behalf for his sin.
This brings us to the purification from uncleanness.
Cleansing from uncleanness
There are different purification procedures depending on the source or reason for uncleanness. Here is a table for easy reference on how cleansing from uncleanness is to be achieved:
|Reason for uncleanness||Reference||Cleansing|
|Eating an unclean animal||Deuteronomy 14:33 “You shall not eat any detestable thing. Eating any detestable thing is willful disobedience (which is sin). If done unintentially, a sin offering is to be done.|
|When a clean animal has died due to illness and you eat of it||Lev 11:39-40||Cleansed by passing of time (unclean till evening) and washing of clothes|
|Touching an unclean animal||Lev 11:28||Cleansed by passing of time (unclean till evening) and washing of clothes|
|Normal menses (a woman’s monthly period)||Lev 15:19-24||passing of time (seven days).|
|Abnormal menses (beyond 7 days)||Lev 15:25-30||both the passing of time (seven clean days after the discharge has stopped) as well as a sin and burnt offering|
|When a woman has had a baby||Lev 12:1-8||she is purified by the passing of time as well as a sin offering|
|In the case of a seminal emission (this could either be through intercourse or a nocturnal emission)||Lev 15:16-18||He/they (husband and wife) will be cleansed by bathing in water and passing of time (till evening)|
|Man with a discharge||Lev 15:2-15||When he becomes clean he shall wait 7 days, wash his clothes, bath in running water and do a sin and burnt offering|
|Touching the carcass of an unclean animal or human uncleanness unawares||Lev 5:5-6||If you were not aware of touching it you must bring a sin offering when you find out.|
|Touching a dead body||Num 19:11-22||Passing of time (seven days) as well as a purification ritual (ashes of sin offering)|
|Leprosy||Lev 14:1-31||A special cleansing ritual is to be followed, which includes a sin offering.|
We learn from this, that often, a sin offering is required. Sometimes in cases where that which caused the uncleanness cannot be categorized as sin. Childbirth is not a sin, neither is having an irregular menstrual cycle nor having leprosy. So, why is that?
Sickness and death came into the world as a result of sin, and that is the reason for bringing a sin offering. It is not necessarily your sin that caused the illness, but general sin in the world. In the previous article, about the law of Niddah, we touched on how uncleanness and its resulting separation, is a picture of sin causing separation from YHVH.
Sacrifices were intended as a means to draw near to YHVH. This sin offering is intended to restore the intimacy after the period of separation. It ends that which brought about separation.
8 Draw near to Elohim and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
There were serious consequences if a person did not cleanse himself according to YHVH’s instructions.
The consequence of uncleanness
The consequence of uncleanness is separation. The most important reason these commandments were given, was to protect the people. This protection is on a physical and spiritual level. In their separation, they would be prevented from defiling the tabernacle or the camp and die, as a result thereof. That is the reason for the commandments being stricter for the priests and the High Priest. Anybody was allowed to go to the door of the tent of meeting; priests were allowed in the courtyard, and the holy place, but only the High Priest was allowed in the holiest place and only on Yom Kippurim. No one was allowed to go into YHVH’s presence in an unclean state. It would cause him his life.
In Leviticus, we are taught the following:
31 “Thus you shall keep the sons of Israel separated from their uncleanness, so that they will not die in their uncleanness by their defiling My tabernacle that is among them.” 32 This is the law for the one with a discharge, and for the man who has a seminal emission so that he is unclean by it, 33 and for the woman who is ill because of menstrual impurity, and for the one who has a discharge, whether a male or a female, or a man who lies with an unclean woman.
2 “Command the sons of Israel that they send away from the camp every leper and everyone having a discharge and everyone who is unclean because of a dead person. 3 “You shall send away both male and female; you shall send them outside the camp so that they will not defile their camp where I dwell in their midst.”
We see that people are not punished for being unclean, but punished when they appear in an unclean state before YHVH. An unclean person, who eats of the peace offering, for example, will be cut off from his people.
21 ‘When anyone touches anything unclean, whether human uncleanness, or an unclean animal, or any unclean detestable thing, and eats of the flesh of the sacrifice of peace offerings which belong to YHVH, that person shall be cut off from his people.’ ”
One of the reasons why separation is necessary is because uncleannes is transferrable.
22 ‘Furthermore, anything that the unclean person touches shall be unclean; and the person who touches it shall be unclean until evening.’ ”
It is also important to know the cleanness cannot be transferred…You can read more on this in the article: “ Haggai says you need to do more”
11 “Thus says YHVH of hosts, ‘Ask now the priests for a ruling: 12 ‘If a man carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and touches bread with this fold, or cooked food, wine, oil, or any other food, will it become holy?’ ” And the priests answered, “No.” 13 Then Haggai said, “If one who is unclean from a corpse touches any of these, will the latter become unclean?” And the priests answered, “It will become unclean.”
The main consequence of uncleanness was thus, separation. However, as we said in the beginning of the article “Sometimes, what we perceive as negative in the fleshy realm can actually be beneficial or positive on either a physical or spiritual level”.
Could this indeed be so and should we perhaps view ritual uncleanness differently as a result hereof?
Firstly, consider the resemblance between all the different reasons for uncleanness. Most of these have death in common, sometimes not immediate death, but the potential to cause death.
Let us go down the list and consider each of the aforementioned reasons for uncleanness.
Touching the carcass of or eating anything unclean
We know that unclean animals are not healthy for us to eat. How often do we not hear of someone getting “food” poisoning after eating shrimps or other shellfish. These animals were designed to be the garbage disposal units in the oceans. It is true also for pigs, vultures, ostriches and many other prohibited animals. They were designed by our Father to rid the environment from that which can harm our health.
We cannot say that about every single unclean animal, but the point is that there are very good reasons why we are prohibited from eating these animals. Touching the carcass, on the other hand, exposes us to bacteria, viruses and parasites that can cause illness. So in both touching or eating unclean animals lies the potential for death, either for yourself of for those around you..
We have covered some aspects of this in the previous article, but not all. We have learned, how having intercourse during menses may cause cervical cancer. We have also learned how this time of separation benefits a married couple. Menses in itself has to do with death. The uterus is emptied of that which could have nourished a new life, but hasn’t.
Medical conditions that cause a discharge can be contagious. The spreading of disease is in this way prevented. When you read the passages in Leviticus about the skin lesions, you would understand that this separation is to prevent the disease from spreading in case it was contagious.
Childbirth renders the new mother unclean for a period of time, seven days for a boy and fourteen days for a girl. Added onto this is a time of purification. The total time is forty days, if she had a boy, and eighty days for a girl (Lev 12:2-5). This time of purification enables the new mother to recover and rest after the birth, settle into a nursing and caring routine and give the baby a chance to build some immunity.
Why would the period be longer for girls than for boys?
It is said that female babies are psychologically more vulnerable than male babies, and that may be the reason for the longer period of separation. However, we do not know for sure…
“Some also suggest the longer period of time in connection with the birth of a girl was because girls are usually smaller at birth, and this would allow more time for the mother’s focused care and attention on the child. As well, since sons were more prized, the longer time at home for a mother with a new born girl would force the family to bond more deeply, over a more extended period of time with the new born girl.”2
This may be a bit speculatative, but it does make it clear that there must be significance in these instructions. YHVH had our welfare in mind when He gave us His commandments and we do not need to know the exact reason for every commandment.
Touching a dead body
The seven day period of separation could apart from causing uncleanness, prevent the spreading of disease . Where death is, we find the potential for disease, due to either the illness that caused the death, or due to decomposition of the body.
Contact with an unclean person or object
By coming into contact with an unclean person or object, we once again see the potential of spreading disease.
So how are we to understand all this?
So, how does this impact us? How are we to understand this?
When we use public transport or go to public places, for example, we may sit on a chair a menstruous woman, or a man who is having a discharge, sat on. We may unknowingly touch the carcass of a unclean animal or be in contact with another person who is unclean. Those who have lost a loved one, would have been in contact with a deceased person. We have seen that there is a specified purification ritual to cleanse a person from coming into contact with a dead body. This ritual is impossible due to the absence of the Temple.
Our point is that we will thus always be in a state of uncleanness. Every one of us is ritually unclean. We also sin, which causes spiritual defilement or uncleanness. That, will be covered in more detail in the article: “Spiritual uncleanness and shadows”
So how are we to understand this? We know that ritual uncleanness means that the person is prohibited to come into the presence of YHVH. Does this now prohibit us from coming into YHVH’s presence?
Ritual purity was usually in the context of the tabernacle and later the Temple. Uncleanness would defile the Tabernacle or the Temple. We do not have a Temple presently, so it is therefor not required of anybody who is unclean, for whatever reason, to be excluded or separated. However, we have seen how adhering to these instructions could greatly benefit us. These instructions, as all YHVH’s instructions, were given by YHVH out of love for His people. What we know today as quarantine is based on this wisdom.
This topic needs to be studied more in-depth, and we will do so in the future. We need to establish how Y’shua’s death and resurrection impact this, because it does.
We would love for you to share your insight on this in order for us all to learn more about this fascinating topic. Please share how you see these instructions.
May YHVH bless you as you learn His ways and may He reveal His truth to us all.
- Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Tags: clean and unclean, death, defile, defilement, High Priest, impure, Leviticus 11, niddah, priests, separation, set apart people, tabernacle, temple, touching a dead body, unclead animals, unclean
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