Leviticus 15
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And the LORD spake unto Moses and to Aaron, saying,

(1) And the Lord spake unto Moses and to Aaron.—This chapter, which lays down the laws of uncleanness arising from issues, discusses two diseased and three natural secretions.

Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When any man hath a running issue out of his flesh, because of his issue he is unclean.
(2) A running issue out of his flesh.—Flesh, as is frequently the case, euphemistically denotes private parts. (See Genesis 6:10; Genesis 7:13; Leviticus 6:3; Leviticus 16:4; Ezekiel 16:26; Ezekiel 23:20, &c.)

Because of his issue he is unclean.—Better, his issue is unclean. Hence, any one coming in contact with it, or with the garment on which traces of the secretion are found, is thereby rendered unclean.

And this shall be his uncleanness in his issue: whether his flesh run with his issue, or his flesh be stopped from his issue, it is his uncleanness.
(3) Whether his flesh run.—This verse defines more minutely the statement in the preceding verse.

Every bed, whereon he lieth that hath the issue, is unclean: and every thing, whereon he sitteth, shall be unclean.
(4) Every bed, whereon he lieth.—So severely did the canonical law deal with these cases that they interpreted the defilement communicated to the bed, and hence also to his seat and saddle, by the patient in five different ways: by standing, sitting, lying, hanging, or leaning on it. The patient’s polluting power is so great that even if the bed, seat, or saddle is under a stone, he defiles it through the stone by any of these actions. If he stood upon two beds, placing one foot upon each, he defiled both.

And whosoever toucheth his bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.
(5, 6) And whosoever toucheth his bed.—The defiling power of the patient was so great that the bed, seat, or saddle which he rendered unclean by any of the above-named five acts polluted again any one who came in contact with these articles in seven different ways: by standing, sitting, lying, hanging, leaning, touching, or bearing them. The person thus polluted had to remain in this condition, debarred from the privileges of the sanctuary, till sundown, when he had to wash his garments, and immerse his whole body in water.

And he that toucheth the flesh of him that hath the issue shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.
(7) And he that toucheth the flesh.—With such intense loathing was the person regarded who had contracted this infirmity, that even the medical man who had professionally to examine him became defiled for the rest of the day. He had to wash his clothes and immerse the whole of his body in water before he could be admitted into the enjoyment of his own sacred privileges.

And if he that hath the issue spit upon him that is clean; then he shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.
(8) If he . . . spit upon him.—Spitting in the face of a person was, and still is, commonly resorted to among Oriental nations as an expression of insult and contempt (Numbers 12:14; Deuteronomy 25:9; Isaiah 1:6; Job 30:10; Matthew 26:67, &c.). Suffering from the disease here discussed, the patient would naturally be more irritable, and hence be liable to give vent more frequently to this mode of expressing his wrath. Now, any person upon whom he happened to heap this indignity became defiled by the spittle in the same manner, and had to go through the same purification, as he who chanced to touch his garments, or as the physician who had to examine him.

And what saddle soever he rideth upon that hath the issue shall be unclean.
(9) And what saddle soever.—Better, and any carriage. The word here translated “saddle” only occurs twice more: viz., 1Kings 5:6 in Hebrew, or Leviticus 4:26 in English, where it is rendered “chariot” in the Authorised Version, and in Song of Solomon 3:10, where it is translated “covering” but where it manifestly denotes the seat inside the palanquin. With the feminine termination the word in question occurs no less than forty-four times, and is invariably translated in the Authorised Version “chariot.” What kind of vehicle the masculine form of the expression in question denotes in the three passages in which it occurs must be decided from the context. In Kings, the horses which are used in connection with it show that it was a carriage drawn by animals. In Canticles it is a vehicle, or the essential part of it, carried by men, and this is the kind of vehicle meant in the passage before us. It is the well-known palanquin so largely used in the East.

Shall be unclean.—The conveyance used is to be unclean, and hence, is not to be used by any one else. It will be seen that the present text does not say how long the vehicle is to be defiled, though in every other instance the time is fixed. (See Leviticus 15:5-11.) There can, therefore, hardly be any doubt that the reading in the LXX., which has here until evening, is the original one, and that the words have dropped out of the Hebrew text.

And whosoever toucheth any thing that was under him shall be unclean until the even: and he that beareth any of those things shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.
(10) And whosoever toucheth any thing that was under him.—That is, the seat in the palanquin on which the passenger sits. If touched by any one after the man with the issue has sat on it, he contracts defilement till sundown.

And he that beareth any of those things.—Better, And he that beareth them. That is, whoso carries the palanquin, with the patient in it, from one place to another, contracts defilement. (See Leviticus 11:28; Leviticus 11:40.)

And whomsoever he toucheth that hath the issue, and hath not rinsed his hands in water, he shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.
(11) And hath not rinsed his hands in water.If the patient happens to touch any one with his hands without having first washed his hands, the man who has thus been touched by the unwashen hands of the defiled invalid contracts pollution till sundown of the day on which he has been touched. He has to wash his clothes and immerse his whole body in water before he can partake of the privileges of the sanctuary. This is the only instance where the touch of the hand as imparting defilement is expressly mentioned, and where the washing of the hands alone is ordered in the Mosaic-Law to prevent the communication of pollution. The washing of the hands over the heifer, ordered in Deuteronomy 21:6, is of a different kind. It is meant to renounce any share in the guilt of the murder, or rather, to protest their innocence.

And the vessel of earth, that he toucheth which hath the issue, shall be broken: and every vessel of wood shall be rinsed in water.
(12) And the vessel of earth . . . shall be broken.—For the reason why vessels of a porous clay must be destroyed when contaminated by defilement, see Leviticus 6:28; Leviticus 11:33. This, however, is the only instance where an earthen vessel touched on the outside was defiled, thus again showing the intense loathing with which the guilt of this kind of infirmity was regarded.

Every vessel of wood shall be rinsed in water.—As these kinds of vessels were both more expensive and more difficult to restore, the Law, which so frequently takes into consideration the circumstances of the people, mercifully spares the more costly utensils. These are to undergo the same baptism as human beings. The administrators of the law during the second Temple took the expression “wood” in a more generic sense, as denoting more enduring material than clay; hence they included vessels made of copper, brass, silver, &c. With regard to the manner in which the vessels thus polluted are to be immersed, they ordained that if the utensil is dipped with its mouth downward, or if the vessel, at the time of its immersion, contains any liquor except water, the baptism is illegal. They, moreover, ordained that all new vessels which are purchased, or otherwise acquired, must likewise be immersed, for fear lest the maker, or some of those who have handled them prior to the purchase, might have been in a state of defilement. Hence the orthodox Jews to this day literally baptize cups, plates, knives, forks, or any new utensil which they buy. It is to this law that Christ refers when He says, “And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing [literally, the baptism] of cups, and pots, brazen vessels, and of tables,” or, as the Margin has it more correctly, “beds,” or couches (Mark 7:4).

And when he that hath an issue is cleansed of his issue; then he shall number to himself seven days for his cleansing, and wash his clothes, and bathe his flesh in running water, and shall be clean.
(13) And when he . . . is cleansed of his issue.—That is, recovered or healed of his infirmity (see Leviticus 15:28), as the real purification was not accomplished till he had performed the ritual prescribed in this and in the two following verses. He is, however, not to perform these rites as soon as he finds that the issue has ceased, but has to wait seven clear days, so as to afford sufficient time to ascertain whether the infirmity had actually disappeared. If any vestige of it was seen during these seven days, or even at the end of the seventh day, and after he was baptized, he had again to count seven other days.

Bathe his flesh in running water.—Or, more literally, living water. It will be seen that whilst all other defiled persons and things were to be immersed in a collection of water, the restored man who had suffered from the issue in question was ordered to bathe in a fountain or in spring water. For the phrase “living water,” see Leviticus 14:5; Leviticus 14:50. It is more than probable that the term “flesh” has here, too, the euphemistic sense in which it has hitherto been used in this section. (See Leviticus 15:2-3; Leviticus 15:7.) This derives support from the fact that whenever bathing of the body is ordered, the phrase for it throughout this section is uniformly “bathe in water” simply, which occurs no less than ten times (Leviticus 15:5-8; Leviticus 15:10-11; Leviticus 15:18; Leviticus 15:21-22; Leviticus 15:27), and where the Authorised Version has in all cases inserted himself in italics. This, moreover, seems to be confirmed by the fact that in the only passage in this section where the expression “flesh” is used in its literal sense for “body” (see Leviticus 15:16), the sacred writer designedly added (ĕth kol) “all,” so that it might be distinguished from the euphemistic sense in which it is used in all the other passages in this section, This, however, would not exclude the bathing of the body as well, but, on the contrary, premises it.

And on the eighth day he shall take to him two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, and come before the LORD unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and give them unto the priest:
(14) And on the eighth day he shall take to him.—If after the bathing on the eve of the seventh day no sign of the infirmity is seen, he is to bring on the eighth day the appointed sacrifices. It is very striking that whilst in other cases it was only the poor who, out of consideration, were allowed two turtledoves or two young pigeons (see Leviticus 5:7; Leviticus 12:8; Leviticus 14:22), in the case before us the meanest offering was prescribed for all alike who suffered from this infirmity, without giving them the choice of bringing a more costly sacrifice. The phrase “he shall take to him” is simply a Hebrew pleonastic way for saying “he shall take.”

The door of the tabernacle of the congregation.—Better, the entrance of the tent of meeting, which here means the .eastern gate, where the offerer would face the west, or Holy of Holies, the place of the Lord’s Divine majesty, and hence, “before the Lord.”

And the priest shall offer them, the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him before the LORD for his issue.
(15) And the priest shall make an atonement.—That is, for the sinful act which has brought about the infirmity. The severity with which people were treated who had contracted this disease may further be seen from the fact that they had to remain without the camp (Numbers 5:1-4). During the second Temple they were debarred from partaking of the Paschal meal, and were banished from the precincts of the holy city. Hence, when David in his great indignation wanted to invoke an imprecation upon his adversaries, he exclaimed “Let there not fail from the house of Joab one that hath an issue” (2Samuel 3:29).

And if any man's seed of copulation go out from him, then he shall wash all his flesh in water, and be unclean until the even.
(16) And if any man’s seed.—The second case, discussed in this and the following verses, is that of an involuntary emission, as in Deuteronomy 23:10. The man who sustained it had simply to immerse his whole body in water the following morning, and remain unclean till sundown. Similar rites were performed by the ancients under the same circumstances. Thus the Egyptian priests when they were defiled by a dream purified themselves by bathing their bodies; and, according to the directions of the Koran, any faithful Mahommedan who meets with such an accident must not perform his prayers till he has gone through the prescribed oblation. (Koran, 4:46.)

And every garment, and every skin, whereon is the seed of copulation, shall be washed with water, and be unclean until the even.
(17) And every skin.—That is, everything which a man wears or lies upon made of skin, in contradistinction to the ordinary garments made of stuffs (see Leviticus 13:48) with which it is associated. Any one of these thus defiled was cleansed by washing. It is from this circumstance that the apostle borrows the expression “hating even the garments spotted by the flesh” (Jude 1:23).

The woman also with whom man shall lie with seed of copulation, they shall both bathe themselves in water, and be unclean until the even.
(18) The woman also with whom man shall lie.—Better, And if a man lie with a woman, that is, even when what is specified in Leviticus 15:16 takes place in intercourse between man and woman lawfully married, it pollutes both the husband and the wife. They have accordingly both to immerse their whole bodies, and remain unclean till sundown, and were debarred from the privileges of the sanctuary during that day. Hence abstinence from conjugal intercourse was regarded as a necessary preparation for the performance of sacred duties. He who had approached his wife could not draw nigh to God (Exodus 19:15), and was not allowed to partake of sacred meals. (Comp. 1Samuel 21:5-6.) The law of pollution was not designed to put a check upon marriage, since matrimony is a Divine institution (Genesis 1:27-28; Genesis 2:21-25), but it is intended to prevent husband and wife from making an immoderate use of their conjugal life, and thus to preserve them in health and vigour by prescribing such constant purifications after it. This is probably the reason why other nations of antiquity enacted similar laws. Thus the Hindoos and the Babylonians bathed after conjugal intercourse. The Egyptian priests abstained from it when they had to perform sacred duties, and the laity were not allowed to enter the precincts of the Temple unless they submitted to ablutions. Mahommed, for the same reason, enjoins lustrations upon all the faithful before reciting their prayers.

And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even.
(19) And if a woman have an issue.—Having legislated for cases in connection with man—as well as for one case in which both the husband and the wife are concerned, the Law now lays down directions for two cases affecting the woman.

And her issue in her flesh be blood.—Better, if her issue, &c. This clause defines the preceding one, stating more minutely what the issue consists of and proceeds from.

She shall be put apart seven days.—Though as a rule the discharge ceases after three or four days, yet, as in the first stage after childbirth, the period of uncleanness is extended to seven days to include exceptional cases. (See Leviticus 12:2.) To fully appreciate the merciful provisions of the laws here enacted, it is necessary to bear in mind not only the gross superstitions which obtained among the ancients about women in this condition, but the cruel treatment to which wives and daughters were subjected, and in some countries both in the Old and New Worlds still are subjected. It was believed that if a woman in this condition sat under a tree, all its fruit fell off; at her approach the edge of a tool became blunted, and copper utensils contracted a fetid smell, and meat got sour, and a thousand other things. Hence the Parsees not only isolated her from the rest of the family, but forbade her speaking to any one, and those who took food to her in her seclusion had to put it at some distance from her. The Zabii purified with fire every place which she trod. Even if the wind which came from the quarter where she was blew upon any one, he became polluted. To this day the in Issing, the Calmucks, and many others, have special houses for them outside each town and village; and at the River La Plata they are sewn into hammocks, with only a small aperture for the mouth, till they are well again. To restrain the Jews from sharing these superstitions, and from resorting to any of these inhuman acts, as well as for sanitary purposes, the Lawgiver ordained these benign and necessary rules.

Whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean.—Like other unclean persons, she defiled by being touched. Though not expressed here, it is implied that he who contracted this defilement had both to wash his garments and bathe his body as usual.

And whosoever toucheth her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.
(21-22) And whosoever toucheth her bed.—The regulations in these three verses are the same as those laid down in Leviticus 15:4-6.

And if it be on her bed, or on any thing whereon she sitteth, when he toucheth it, he shall be unclean until the even.
(23) And if it be on her bed.—Better, and if any object be on her bed, that is, if anything happen to lie on her bed.

When he toucheth it.—Rather, if he toucheth it. Whilst the former two verses declare that if any one touches the bed itself, or the thing on which she sat, he contracts such a degree of defilement that he must wash his clothes, bathe his whole body, and remain in a state of pollution till sundown, the verse before us enacts that if he happens to touch any vessel, garment, or any other objects which are lying on the defiling bed or seat in question, he has only to remain unclean till sundown, without having to wash his garments. The defilement in this case is not primary, but secondary. It is no more the bed or seat which defiled by direct contact, but an object which the defiled bed or seat had defiled, the pollution in this case being indirect.

And if any man lie with her at all, and her flowers be upon him, he shall be unclean seven days; and all the bed whereon he lieth shall be unclean.
(24) And if any man lie with her.—For committing this gross act presumptuously, both parties to it were visited with death. (See Leviticus 18:19; Leviticus 20:18.)

And if a woman have an issue of her blood many days out of the time of her separation, or if it run beyond the time of her separation; all the days of the issue of her uncleanness shall be as the days of her separation: she shall be unclean.
(25) Have an issue . . . many days.—The last case is that of a chronic issue, arising from a derangement in the constitution. This is the kind of complaint from which the woman suffered who came to Christ (Matthew 9:20; Luke 8:44). As long as she suffered from it, which lasted sometimes for many years, she defiled and was defiling in the same way as in her menses.

Every bed whereon she lieth all the days of her issue shall be unto her as the bed of her separation: and whatsoever she sitteth upon shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her separation.
(26, 27) Every bed whereon she lieth.—The rules here laid down about her defilement and defiling are the same as those in Leviticus 15:20-22.

But if she be cleansed of her issue, then she shall number to herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean.
(28) But if she be cleansed.—That is, cured or healed of her infirmity. The expression “cleansed” is used both here and in Leviticus 15:13 for the disappearance of the complaint. From the time of its cessation she is to count seven days, during which no trace of the complaint must be observable, just as in the case of the less innocent disorder. (See Leviticus 15:13.)

After that she shall be clean.—That is, after having performed the rites of lustration.

And on the eighth day she shall take unto her two turtles, or two young pigeons, and bring them unto the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
(29) She shall take unto her . . . —On the eighth day she is to bring the same sacrifices which are prescribed for the man who is cured of an issue (see Leviticus 15:14), only that in the latter case the man had to be bathed in living water, because he brought the illness upon himself.

And the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for her before the LORD for the issue of her uncleanness.
(30) And the priest shall offer.—Exactly in the same manner as described in Leviticus 15:15.

Thus shall ye separate the children of Israel from their uncleanness; that they die not in their uncleanness, when they defile my tabernacle that is among them.
(31) Thus shall ye separate.—That is, according to the regulations laid down in this chapter. “Ye”—i.e., Moses and Aaron, to whom they were conjointly addressed (see Leviticus 15:1)—are to restrain the children of Israel, lest they be punished with death when they approach the Lord in a defiled state.

Defile my tabernacle.—Better, my dwelling place, which can here be used, though in Leviticus 8:10, where it also occurs, the expression “dwelling-place” does not suit so well.

This is the law of him that hath an issue, and of him whose seed goeth from him, and is defiled therewith;
(32, 33) This is the law.—These two verses give a summary of the contents of the chapter. In the recapitulation, however, as we have already seen, the order of the enactments is not strictly adhered to.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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