Or if a person touches anything unclean--whether the carcass of an unclean wild animal or livestock or crawling creature--even if he is unaware of it, he is unclean and guilty.
We naturally ask, Why such stringent regulations as to everything of man or beast that was "unclean"? We may understand -
I. THE EXPLANATION (THE RATIONALE) OF THESE REQUIREMENTS.
1. The two main truths God was teaching his people were the divine unity, and purity of heart and life. The state of surrounding heathendom made these two lessons emphatically and particularly necessary.
2. God's method of teaching was pictorial: it was by rite, symbol, illustration. The world was in its religious childhood.
3. Under this method bodily ills naturally stood for spiritual evils; as wholeness of the body stood for health of the soul, so the sickness of the body answered to the malady of the soul, and the uncleanness of the one to the impurity of the other.
4. Hence would result the fact that the careful avoidance of the one would be an instructive lesson in the shunning of the other. Associating the two things so closely in their minds, commanded to shun most scrupulously all bodily uncleanness, taught to look at the least defilement as a transgression of the law, they would necessarily feel, with all desirable intensity, that every moral and spiritual impurity must be most sensitively avoided. Therefore such enactments as those of the text.
II. THEIR MORAL SIGNIFICANCE. They say to us:
1. That we should avoid all that is suggestive of impurity..
2. That we should shun everything which can, in any way or in the least degree, be communicative of spiritual evil.
3. That a stain upon the soul may be contracted without our own knowledge; "if it be hidden from him." This may be through books, friends, habits of speech.
4. That we should point out to the unwary their danger or their error.
5. That on the first intimation of error we should penitently return on our way. - C.
He also shall be unclean.
This avoidance of unclean animals and places is not without practical illustration in our own personal experience and action. To-day, for example, we avoid places that are known to be fever-stricken. We are alarmed lest we should bring ourselves within the influence of contagion. The strongest man might fear if he knew that a letter were put into his hand which had come from a house where fever was fatally raging. However heroic he might be in sentiment, and however inclined to boast of the solidity of his nervous system, it is not impossible that even the strongest man might shrink from taking the hand of a fever-stricken friend. All this is natural and all this is justifiable, and, in fact, any defiance of this would be unnatural and unjustifiable. Is there, then, no suggestion in all such rational caution that there may be moral danger from moral contagion? Can a body emit pestilence and a soul dwell in all evil and riot in all wantonness without giving out an effluvium fatal to moral vigour and to spiritual health? The suggestion is preposterous. They are the unwise and most reprehensible men who being afraid of a fever have no fear of a moral pestilence; who running away in mortal terror from influences leading towards small-pox, cholera, and other fatal diseases, rush into companionships, and actions, and servitudes which are positively steeped and saturated with moral pollution. That we are more affected by the one than by the other only shows that we are more body than soul. Literally, the text does not refer in all probability to a purely spiritual action, yet not the less is the suggestion justified by experience that even the soul considered in its most spiritual sense may touch things that are unclean and may be defiled by them. A poor thing indeed that the hand has kept itself away from pollution and defilement if the mind has opened wide all the points of access to the influence of evil. Sin may not only be in the hand, it may be roiled as a sweet morsel under the tongue. There may be a chamber of imagery in the heart, i man may be utterly without offence in any social acceptation of that term — actually a friend of magistrates and judges, and himself a high interpreter of the law of social morality and honour, and yet all the while may be hiding a very perdition in his heart. It is the characteristic mystery of the salvation of Jesus Christ that it does not come to remove stains upon the flesh or spots upon the garments, but to work out an utter and eternal cleansing in the secret places of the soul, so that the heart itself may in the event be without "spot or wrinkle or any such thing" — pure, holy, radiant, even dazzling with light, fit to be looked upon by the very eye of God.
Pierius Valerianus, in his book of Egyptian Hieroglyphics, maketh mention of a kind of white mouse, called the Armenian mouse, being of such a cleanly disposition, that it will rather die than be any way defiled, so that the passage into her hole being besmeared with any filth, she will rather expose herself to the mercy of her cruel enemy, than any way seek to save her life by passing so foul an entrance.
Men have looked into the crater of a volcano to see what was there, and going down to explore, without coming back to report progress. Many and many a man has gone to see what was in hell, that did see it. Many and many a man has looked to see what was in the cup, and routed a viper coiled up therein. Many and many a man has gone into the house of lust, and found that the ends thereof were death — bitter, rotten death. Many and many a man has sought to learn something of the evils of gambling, and learned it to his own ruin. And I say to every man, the more you know about these things the more you ought to be ashamed of knowing; a knowledge of them is not necessary to education or manhood; and they ought to be avoided, because when a man has once fallen into them, the way out is so steep and hard.
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