There are five different levels to the commandments. First, there is the literal 613 commandments that cannot be changed. It is like the “Constitution” of Israel. Second, there are commands that are derived from the Torah, using rules of interpretation. Third, there are the oral traditions, considered given at Mount Sinai by the rabbis, and found elsewhere in the Tanach, like the laws concerning buying and selling on the Sabbath found in the Prophets. Fourth, there are rabbinical decrees, but these decrees cannot go against a literal commandment. These laws were given because of changing conditions in life. These were considered “fences” and passed to protect an existing law in the Scriptures. Fifth, there are customs and traditions. Acts 16.21 and 21.21 refers to these with the Greek word “ethos” and in 1 Cor 11.2, 1 Thes 2.15 and 3.6 with the word “paradosis.” The Hebrew equivalent is “Mishna’ot.” This is a very important point to remember when studying the Scriptures and should be kept in mind.
The book of Leviticus is the first book that is studied when a Jewish child began their studies at the age of five because it contains the “purity laws” and it is a book on holiness. It is book three of the Torah which indicates it is the “meat” of the Torah in a chiastic structure. In Christianity, it may never be studied. In Lev 11.1-2 it says that “these” are the creatures that may be eaten. It goes on to name the ritually “clean” animals, but this is not new in Leviticus. Gen 7.1-2 and 8.20-21 tells that the animals were already divided into clean and unclean before Moses and Israel. Noah only offered ritually clean animals to the Lord. In Gen 4.1-4 we learn that Abel brought an animal offering and Cain brought an agricultural offering. The problem with Cain’s offering was not that you couldn’t offer agricultural things, because you could. The problem with Cain is found in v 7, where it says that “if you do not do well (have sinned), the sin offering (called a “chata’at”) is “stretched out” in submission at the door (meaning “available”).” In other words, Cain had sinned and the Lord required a sin offering, but Cain only offered agricultural products. That is why his offering was disregarded by the Lord. Because of this, Cain thought that the Lord had rejected him from the rights of the first-born, and decided to kill Abel to get it back. What this story tells us is, that as far back as Cain and Abel the Lord had given them instruction on clean and unclean, and on what animals to offer, and why. It also means that Abel divided the fat (Lev 3.16, 7.25) and it was a firstling (bikkurim) of his flock. Gen 9.1-4 is very similar to Lev 11, and shows that the Scriptures are consistent. Clean and unclean had to do with what was ritually acceptable for offerings, not food (Gen 8.20). For instance, you can eat a deer, but it could not be offered in the Temple.
Now, let’s look at Lev 11.3-8. We learn that it is not only a matter of consumption, but contact, which is a major theme in the purity laws. In Lev 11.9 we learn what we can eat that lives in the water, and in v 10 what we cannot eat. The word in the NASB for these is “detestable (v 10) to you” (not God) and it means an “abomination.” That word in Hebrew is “sheketz” and it is similar to the word used in “abomination (shikutz) of desolation.” This should be our reaction to them when asked to eat them. It is abhorrent, horrible to be offered such things to eat. This was Peter’s reaction in the vision he saw in Acts 10.14. Deut 14.3-21 also deals with what can be eaten or not.
Now, what we are going to say here is very important to remember. Whether you agree or disagree with the fact that these commandments are applicable today is up to you, but there are two things that are inescapable in the Gospels and Epistles. First, the first century Jewish believers in Yeshua followed the commandments as they applied to them (1 Cor 7.17-19). Second, they taught other believers, whether Jew or non-Jew, to do the same. Here is what we need to keep in mind. In the Hertz Pentateuch, written by Dr. Joseph H. Hertz, the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, he says on p. 459, “It is to be noted that most laws of purity and impurity apply only in reference to the Sanctuary (Temple) and the holy objects connected with it. They did not apply in ordinary life, or to persons who did not intend to enter the Sanctuary (Temple.”
Lev 11.11-24 tells us that if you become unclean because of these creatures, there was a time definition and washing your clothes that is part of this. In most cases you were unclean until evening (sunset). In Lev 12.1-8 we see a graduated scale of purification offerings, like there are different “grades” of impurity (a “father” then “1” removed; “2” removed; “3” removed and so on). In v 4 it says that one unclean cannot touch anything consecrated (holy). Now, only the Lord can make something “holy” so that means anything listed in the Scripture that the Lord called “holy” cannot be touched by the woman after childbirth in Lev 12.1-8. There is a difference between “rabbinical” uncleanness and “Scriptural” uncleanness. The state of clean and unclean has nothing to do with social standing, whether you are a king or a pauper. It does not know gender because both can become unclean. The purity laws teach us that “we must be clean to appear before the Lord.”
What is the highest way to contact uncleanness? It is having contact with a corpse. When you think “death” think “uncleanness” (1 Cor 15.50-56). To become clean, you must go through a “Tevilah” or an immersion. A change of status is required (Psa 24.3-4), meaning to “go up, ascend” to God. In an immersion, as you go under the water, it is symbolic of death, and coming out of the water is symbolic of resurrection. We have a teaching in immersion called “Tevilah” on this site if you want more information. The concept related to immersion in living water is related to the Garden of Eden. Eden had rivers running through it. Because of the water cycle, water that was in Eden is contained in the living water anywhere in the world. To immerse in living water means you are in contact with the innocence that was once Eden, and to enter the Temple, you needed to go through an immersion because the Temple was seen as a miniature “Eden.”
Lev 7.22-27 tells us that the blood and the fat cannot be eaten, and this goes along with Lev 11 and the dietary laws (Gen 4.4; 9.4; Lev 3.4; Lev 17). The “fat” is symbolic of several things. It symbolizes the things of God that are “too rich” for us to consume, or beyond our human comprehension. We can digest small amounts but too much is too heavy for us. Secondly, the “fat” can symbolize pride, prosperity and “folly” and can render our hearts and mind dull, insensitive and oblivious to truth (Psa 119.70). Lev 8 deals with the consecration of priests, and in later chapters it filters down to the people (Ch’s 9-17; Num 19). The priests are “set aside” first because if the priesthood is unclean, then the people can’t be cleansed. Why? They offered the korbanot (offerings) and sprinkled the ashes of the Red Heifer. This will be done again when Yeshua returns because Israel is unclean (no Temple). Lev 9.1-6 will be done again when Yeshua returns (Isa 66.18-23) in his role as High Priest and King (Zech 6). The idea is that you consecrate the priests first, then the people (Lev 9.7). Part of this consecration involves a sin offering (Lev 9.8-10). Lev 10.17 says that it is to be eaten by the High Priest in order to “bear away the guilt of the congregation” which is a clear allusion to Yeshua’s role when he died. Does this mean the priest sinned? The answer is “No.” Other examples can be found in Lev 12.6, 15.15; Lev 14.1-32, 15.30 and Num 6.13-14). Did Yeshua offer a sin offering? He will in Ezek 37.25, 44.3, 45.21-25). This is to be understood in a “technical sense” and part of the ceremony. Immersions were part of the purity laws and they still are. No one would argue that a new believer in Yeshua needs to immersed, because they are to come before God in purity (John 13.8-10; 1 Tim 2.8; Exo 30.21; Psa 24.4; Psa 26.6). In Ezek 43.18-27 we see that purification equals consecration (43.26) and there is no acceptance without purification (43.27). Lev 12.1-8 deals with the purification of a woman who has a child. Mary underwent this very ceremony after Yeshua was born. This chapter has eschatological meaning. Let’s go into some detail on this chapter to give you an example of how these laws can apply to eschatology and prophecy.
v 2…”Speak to the sons of Israel (“sons” includes both male and female) saying, ‘When a woman (Israel-Rev 12) gives birth and bears a male child (Messiah not from Adam but is the seed of the woman-Gen 3.15=”virgin birth”), then she shall be unclean for seven days (ceremonially, not moral) as in the days of her menstruation she shall be unclean.
v 3…And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.
v 4…Then she shall remain in the blood of her purification for thirty-three days (Yeshua died at 33 and “cut off”-Dan 9.26); she shall not touch any consecrated thing (in the Temple, etc), nor enter the sanctuary (just like in Eden with the first Adam) until the days of her purification are completed.
v 5…But if she bears a female child (Israel bore the Kahal in Acts 2, the bride, after Yeshua) then she shall be unclean as in her menstruation; and she shall remain in the blood of her purification for sixty-six days (Israel rejected the testimony of the Kahal and received “double uncleanness”; the first Jewish revolt started in 66 AD, which resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple and the land, fulfilling Yeshua’s prophecies in Matt 23, Mark 13 and Luke 21.
v 6…And when the days of her purification are completed, for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the doorway (Yeshua) of the tent of meeting, a one year old lamb for a burnt offering (olah= holocaust in Greek), and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering.
v 7…Then he shall offer it before the Lord and make atonement for her, and she shall be cleansed from the flow of her blood (The time for Israel’s cleansing is near-Ezek 39.22; Rom 11.25-26. They will present Yeshua as their “Olah” and “Chata’at” which will allow her to touch the “holy things” and come into the presence of God in the Messianic Temple).
v 8…But if she cannot afford a lamb (no matter how spiritually poor Israel is, they can be cleansed), then she shall take two turtle doves or two young pigeons, the one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.”
This was given to show you that the laws of purification go far beyond the written commands, but they are types and shadows of things to come and many have eschatological ramifications when understood. We will take an eschatological look into other laws of purification and relate them to the Messiah and the redemption as we move along in this study. In Part 4, we will begin by looking into Lev 13 and 14 and the laws for the cleaning of a leper.