Understanding the Concept of Holiness through the Levitical Laws on Clean and Unclean Foods

“You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean” – Leviticus 10:10 (ESV)

In Christianity, God makes the rules, and they are not according to our preferences or desires. But the Spirit of God enables us to obey them.

With that in mind, I submit to you that a brief review of the concept of holiness in the Book of Leviticus might prove helpful to our understanding. Chapter 11 of Leviticus distinguishes between “clean” and “unclean” foods. The unclean foods defiled the Israelites and made them “unclean” before God, thus restricting their fellowship with Him.

Verses 43 to 45 (ESV) say, “43 You shall not make yourselves detestable with any swarming thing that swarms, and you shall not defile yourselves with them, and become unclean through them.  44  For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground.  45  For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy."

And In Leviticus 12-15, other forms of ceremonial uncleanness were defined. A woman was declared unclean for 7 days after the birth of a boy and 14 days for a girl (Leviticus 12:1-5). Leprous infections made a person unclean, and very precise regulations were given regarding such persons. Clear instructions were given concerning the quarantine and the ceremonial cleansing of those no longer unclean.

Robert L. Deffinbaugh, a pastor-teacher in Texas, USA, writing in bible.org, says, “Many of the distinctions between “clean” and “unclean” made in Leviticus appear to be arbitrary without rational or logical explanation.” And, “while these distinctions were set out clearly, the reasons for them were not. Why, for instance, was a woman declared “unclean” twice as long for having a girl than for having a boy (see Leviticus 12:1-5)? Why was beef “clean” while pork was declared to be “unclean”?

I believe this is by divine design. That which sets the true child of God apart from all others is their faith and trust in God, evidenced by obedience to His commands even when they do not seem to make sense. Not eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil did not make sense to Adam and Eve, but God required their obedience. Offering up Isaac as a sacrifice to God made no sense to Abraham, but he obeyed God by his willingness to do so. So too obedience to the distinctions God made between the “clean” and the “unclean” set Israel apart from all other peoples.

That separateness is holiness.

Pastor Robert Chew