When we start thinking about the book of Leviticus, one aspect that throws people off is the idea of purity. To us, what they did seems so outdated and nonsensical. You have to wash your clothes so much for that? You must go and bathe because you did this? Why couldn’t they be reasonable like us?
Yet as David DeSilva has pointed out in “Honor, Patronage, Kinship, and Purity,” are we much better? Most of our reasons are for hygiene today, but we emphasize purity. We like ourselves to be clean. Especially obsessive-compulsive types like myself who wash our hands at every little thing.
Consider our fixations in other areas. Have you not seen someone go totally berserk because of a dent on their car? Usually, it’s so tiny that you can’t even notice it, but several people will spend hundreds of dollars to get that dent taken care of. That dent tarnishes a totally pure image they want.
The Jews back then believed in purity as well and everything was to remind them of purity because everything was to reflect the purity of YHWH. YHWH had not mixing in himself. He was total in all that he was (And I would say is of course). This is the reason that no hybrids were allowed and no mixed clothing.
To us, it might sound weird, but in a Jewish mindset, it does make perfect sense. You don’t where clothes that are combinations of parts because they are not pure. They are mixed. Since YHWH is pure, you have to wear that which is pure as well. You also do not have hybrids as they are mixed. Only purities are allowed.
Anthropology has come to some of the same conclusions with regards to animals. A theory is around that the animals were divided into the spheres of air, water, and earth. An animal had to be totally in one in order to be clean. An eel would not count for it does not have the fishlike body and is more earthy. It is a mixture of water and earth.
This is also found in moral purity especially in the sexual code. The most intimate part of the person’s life was to reflect that holiness. Indeed, it should be that which reflects it the most one could argue. If you could not be holy with your very sexual nature, how could you be holy in other areas?
The Day of Atonement would remind the people of this. The High Priest had to be sure he was absolutely holy before entering the Most Holy Place as he did once a year to make atonement. He had bells on and a rope around his foot as well so that they would know he was moving by the sound of the bells. If the ringing stopped, he was unholy in some way and they had to drag him out with the rope as he would have been struck dead.
What was the point of that day? It was to remove sins. This was the most important way to be pure and the reason for many sacrifices. The Israelites were to be holy and what kept them from being truly holy was their sins. They had to be separated from their sins and their lifestyle was to remind them of that.
With this in mind, we can begin soon looking deeper into the book of Leviticus while reminding ourselves that YHWH required purity.