Uncleanness. The distinctive idea attached to ceremonial uncleanness among the Hebrews was that it cut a person off for the time from social privileges, and left his citizenship among God’s people for the while in abeyance. There is an intense reality in the fact of the divine law taking hold of a man by the ordinary infirmities of flesh, and setting its stamp, as it were, in the lowest clay of which he is moulded. The sacredness attached to the human body is parallel to that which invested the ark of the covenant itself. It is as though Jehovah thereby would teach men that the “very hairs of their head were all numbered” before him, and that “in his book were all their members written.” Thus was inculcated, so to speak, a bodily holiness. Nor were the Israelites to be only “separated from other people,” but they were to be “holy unto God,” Lev. 20:24, 26; “a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.” The importance to physical well-being of the injunctions which required frequent abolution, under whatever special pretexts, can be but feebly appreciated in our cooler and damper climate. Uncleanness, as referred to man, may be arranged in three degrees:
1. That which defiled merely “until even,” and was removed by bathing and washing the clothes at the end of it; such were all contacts with dead animals. 2. That graver sort which defiled for seven days, and was removed by the use of the “water of separation”; such were all defilements connected with the human corpse. 3. Uncleanness from the morbid puerperal or menstrual state, lasting as long as that morbid state lasted; and in the case of leprosy lasting often for life. As the human person was itself the seat of a covenant token, so male and female had each their ceremonial obligations in proportion to their sexual differences. There is an emphatic reminder of human weakness in the fact of birth and death—man’s passage alike into and out of his mortal state—being marked with a stated pollution. The corpse bequeathed a defilement of seven days to all who handled it, to the “tent” or chamber of death, and to sundry things within it. Nay, contact with one slain in the field of battle, or with even a human bone or grave, was no less effectual to pollute than that with a corpse dead by the course of nature. Num. 19:11-18. This shows that the source of pollution lay in the mere fact of death. The duration of defilement caused by the birth of a female infant being double that due to a male, extending respectively to eighty and forty days in all, Lev. 12:2-5, may perhaps represent the woman’s heavier share in the first sin and first curse. Gen. 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:14. Among causes of defilement should be noticed the fact that the ashes of the red heifer, burnt whole, which were mixed with water, and became the standing resource for purifying uncleanness in the second degree, themselves became a source of defilement to all who were clean, even as of purification to the unclean, and so the water. Somewhat similarly the scapegoat, who bore away the sins of the people, defiled him who led him into the wilderness, and the bringing forth and burning the sacrifice on the Great Day of Atonement had a similar power. This lightest form of uncleanness was expiated by bathing the body and washing the clothes. Besides the water of purification made as aforesaid, men and women, in their “issues,” were, after seven days, reckoned from the cessation of the disorder, to bring two turtle-doves or young pigeons to be killed by the priests. All these kinds of uncleanness disqualified for holy functions: as the layman so affected might not approach the congregation and the sanctuary, so any priest who incurred defilement must abstain from holy things. Lev. 22:2-8. [Leprosy.] The religion of the Persians shows a singularly close correspondence with the Levitical code.