In part 1, I cited the first reason God had for outlawing certain “unclean” foods – the foods related in a particular way to the ground that had been cursed after the rebellion of Adam and Eve. Now, let’s explore the second reason for God to label some things as “clean” and others as “unclean” according to the Old Testament Law and why. (see Leviticus 11-13, primarily)
The Creator-God had designed the creation with a particular order that was reflective of His very being. In other words, creation was “good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12,18, 21, 25) and humanity served as the crowning achievement when made in His image (Gen.1:27). Therefore, the creation was deemed as being “very good” (Genesis 1:31). However, when Adam and Eve rebelled against God, the image-bearers were effectively declaring that creation was still incomplete and what God had created was not good given that they were not what they could be – to be like God himself.
Why Did God Put a Tree in the Garden Anyhow?
When humanity was created, there was no visible difference between the Creator and His human creation. Both Creator and creation could walk, talk, and appeared to be similar in every respect from what we know. However, there was one distinguishing dynamic that revealed the Creator/creation relationship: the Creator had prohibited Adam and Eve to eat from the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:9). With this one command, the Lord was expressing authority that He was the Creator with the right to restrict their actions and they, as His creation, had an obligation to willfully and joyfully obey. In short, they would find their joy in obeying the Creator who gave them life and He would be glorified by their very existence since His perfections would radiate from them given they were image-bearers. However, through the influence of the Enemy of God, this Creator/creation distinction became unbearable to Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve chose to reject the rule of God when they could be like God themselves. Effectively, Adam and Eve sought to make their own creation – themselves. By throwing off God’s one prohibition that distinguished them as being subordinate to God, Adam and Eve sought to be masters of their own destiny, designers of their own reality.
From Bad to Worse…
When Adam and Eve rebelled against their Creator, disorder entered the world with the ultimate expression of this disorder being certain death (Gen. 2:17). Death was more than a penalty for Adam and Eve’s rebellion, it was also an abiding distinction that God is Creator and humanity is not since eternality is an essential attribute of deity. Today, the very existence of death serves as a worldwide reminder of the fracture between the Creator and His creation.
How Does Death Relate to the Purity Laws?
To come into contact (on purpose or by accident – 11:24-25; or indirectly – Lev. 11:32, 35) with something that was once alive but now dead was to become unclean (Lev. 11:32). Therefore, just as eating unclean animals was to remind the people of Israel of ground that was cursed due to their rebellion; there was also a need to remind people of how death was also a result of sin. Death is the ultimate expression of “anti-creation” and the people of Israel would need to be reminded of this in order to foster a need to continually place their hope in the promised Redeemer to come (see Gen. 3:15).
Why Breaking Pottery or “Discharge” or Blood?
The Law mentions all sorts of things that were considered unclean. A casual reader might think that the designation of something being “unclean” was to avoid illness or that it was to function as some type of ancient system of healthcare for Israel. While there were benefits to personal health, those values are not being espoused in the purity laws. When you examine the standards, you will discover that each prohibition related to one thing – human contact. For example, the most well known of the clean and unclean laws related to leprosy. In this prohibition, we see the original theme of Adam and Eve’s rebellion come into view. The “very good” of creation has now been warped and this distortion from sin did not merely pass to Adam and Eve, but it was passed on to all of humanity. Therefore, just as leprosy passed from one human to another through touch so would leprosy. A disease of the skin would indicate a person was unclean. Why only mentioned these types of illnesses? Because diseases of the skin were visible and, therefore, spoke directly to the “anti-creation” dynamic that was at the root of all illnesses. Infection like a skin disease would give rise to something being wrong, a form of disorder within creation. Additionally, a disease of the skin would be transferable from one human to another. The point is that our unseen spiritual condition – our sinful drive to rebel against the Creator, in passed from parents to children just like a visible skin ailment is passed on from one human to another. Regarding the expulsion of blood, this prohibition is included not because it was gross or unsanitary to touch blood but because life is in the blood (see, Leviticus 17:11 and Leviticus 12). Again, the theme of these blood-related prohibitions relates to life and death. Blood needed to be viewed not as merely being fluid, but essential to life and, therefore, precious.
Is This Really Necessary?
The purity laws were intended to be a daily reminder of the effects of sin that had downgraded the creation from God’s original intent to now being unordered, violent, and even dangerous to humans. This “anti-creation” dynamic would be the visible outworking of the invisible fracture with our Creator. In each prohibition, the person would be reminded that the world is not as it should be just as humanities relationship with God is not as it was intended to be.
Now for the Good News
It is within this context that God speaks of an incredibly kind and gracious provision through the promise of sending a coming Redeemer who would save us by paying our sin-debt and conquering death. The Creator gave this promise immediately after the rebellion of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:15). Rather than walk away from us, or banish us to an eternal punishment for cosmic treason, the Creator chose to pursue us and provide for us while we were still sinners. Given the curse/purity laws/coming Messiah connection, Paul’s words to the disciples in Corinth have significant depth and meaning:
Then comes the end, when he [Jesus] delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death (I Cor. 15:24-26).
The distinction between life and death in the Old Testament purity laws were designed to remind Israel of their need for the coming Redeemer and that is why these purity laws are interwoven into the cultural fabric of the people of Israel. The Creator did not want them to forget.
Now that our Redeemer – King Jesus has come; there is an outstanding offer for forgiveness to those who would abandon hope in themselves and place their trust in His promise to cover their sin, to pay their sin debt. When Adam and Eve abandoned trust in God it was sinful. But, now, if anyone will trust in the work of Christ on their behalf they will be accepted back into the family of God. In short, the work of Jesus reverses the curse and ushers in a new creation:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:12).
From the vantage point of the Apostle Paul, this is not merely poetic prose, but a real and meaningful expression in which the original alignment between Creator and creature is repaired and awaits the full restoration in a new garden one day. As the Apostle John witnessed in the vision God gave him of the future:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:3-4
Therefore, the purity laws of what was “clean” and what was “unclean” were not meant to give you the impression of being a fanciful ritual or health care in the Old Testament, but a symbolic reminder of the rebellion of humanity coupled with the joyful hope of a coming Redeemer. Jesus is the Savior who had repaired the damage done and now invites everyone to enter into a new relationship with God. There is coming a day in which we will enter a new “garden of Eden” in which we will be reunited with our King and find our joy in obeying Him and He will be glorified in us.