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“A Running Issue”
“And the LORD spake unto Moses and to Aaron, saying, 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…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. This is the law of him that hath an issue, and of him whose seed goeth from him, and is defiled therewith; and of her that is sick of her flowers, and of him that hath an issue, of the man, and of the woman, and of him that lieth with her that is unclean.” (Leviticus 15:1-33)
Leviticus 15 speaks of corruption from within displayed in “a running issue” in the flesh. These thirty-three verses of Inspiration, like all other portions of Holy Scripture, were written for our learning, and are intended by God the Holy Spirit to be applied to each of us (Romans 15:4).
Most of what I have read from other men on this passage of Scripture treats the “running issue” in chapter 15 as an uncleanness of far less significance than the leprosy described in chapters 13 and 14. But that is not the case at all. In fact, the corruption and defilement of this running issue portrays, in a way, something even worse than the leprosy of chapters 13 and 14.
The “running issue” described so graphically in Leviticus 15:1-33 is a sickening, revolting type and picture of something far more sickening and revolting in us. The sin that is in us by nature, the corruption of our vile, base, depraved hearts is a foul, obnoxious puss, constantly oozing from our hearts, by which we are defiled, and which defiles everything we touch. This is something worse than the leprosy seen in the flesh. This is the secret, hidden corruption and uncleanness of our hearts.
I am sometimes shocked by the comments people make with regard to the Word of God. Someone once said to me, “I don’t think the Song of Solomon should even be read in public, much less preached from. It would just be too embarrassing.” That was shocking enough, but in my study of Leviticus 15, I read this comment from a man whose writings I often find very profitable.
“We should feel strongly disposed to question the sound judgment and refined taste of a man, who could stand up and read the fifteenth of Leviticus, in the midst of an ordinary congregation. But why? Is it because it is not ‘divinely inspired,’ and, as such, ‘profitable?’ By no means; but because the generality of persons are not sufficiently spiritual to enter into its pure and holy lessons.”
Such comments are shocking when made by people who rightly esteem Holy Scripture as God’s inspired, infallible, inerrant Word. That is the way Roman Catholicism deals with the Word of God. Under the pretense of spirituality and piety, such expressions reveal an utter contempt for Holy Scripture. They also reflect the horrid self-righteousness and pride of one who imagines that he is so holy and pure that the reading of Holy Scripture might defile his mind!
May God the Holy Spirit, by whom these instructions about “a running issue” have been preserved for us by divine inspiration, now be our Teacher as we seek to discover the message contained in Leviticus 15. I want to show you five things taught in these thirty-three verses.
First, let us learn, as we are everywhere taught in Holy Scripture, that our hearts are overflowing cesspools of corruption, constantly oozing foulness, impurity, and uncleanness. If I could be more graphic in describing the corruption of our hearts, I would be. But the Holy Spirit here uses three very graphic pictures by which I hope all who read these lines will be convinced and compelled to cry before God, “I know that in me (that I, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18).
1. The corruption of our hearts is portrayed under the picture of a man with a running issue out of his flesh (vv. 1-15).
This running issue is the equivalent of what we call gonorrhea. What a proper picture that is of our hearts’ corruption! Gonorrhea is a vile plague contracted by illicit behavior. It is something you get from someone else. But it becomes a part of you. It is something you try to hide. But the corruption from deep within oozes foulness from your body. That pretty well describes the evil that is in us.
We became sinners by the illicit, criminal, adulterous behavior of our father Adam. The sin of our father is now ours, so much ours that sin is what we are. Oh, how we try to hide (from ourselves, from other people, and from God) what we really are! But the corruption constantly oozes foulness from within.
2. The foulness and corruption of our nature is pictured by the spilling of a man’s seed (vv. 16-18).
We are not told whether the seed spilt is spilt in some profane act, or in the conjugal privileges of a husband and wife, or nocturnally. But this entire chapter describes things of the most private nature. I am therefore inclined to think that this particular passage is dealing with that which occurs nocturnally. It speaks of something that is unavoidable. Because it is unavoidable, the natural outflow of a man’s body, we commonly associate nothing evil with it.
But the Lord God declares a person unclean who is in anyway touched by a man’s seed. Why? The reason is clear. — Everything that comes out of a man, everything is corrupt and unclean.
Everything connected with and flowing from our fallen, depraved nature is unclean. The very desires of nature are corrupt. We are so corrupt that even the multiplying of our seed is in sin (Psalm 51:5). If we read this portion of Holy Scripture spiritually and consider it as it is, a picture of the state of our very hearts, the running issues of evil from our hearts are innumerable (Isaiah 1:4-6; Hosea 4:1-2; Matthew 15:19-20).
How precious, how sweet, how blessed it is to sinners, conscious of their utter corruption, depravity, and sin, to read and know God’s covenant grace that cleanses the soul from all its filthiness (Ezekiel 36:25-27; 1 John 1:7, 9)!
3. The uncleanness presented in this chapter is the uncleanness of a woman with an issue of blood (vv. 19-24).
Isaiah declares that all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags, discarded menstrual cloths. Here, our very nature is described as the uncleanness of a woman’s discharge during her monthly cycle.
This is the doctrine taught by these three disgusting examples of foulness, examples so disgusting that we simply do not discuss them in public, unless the matters are absolutely unavoidable. — Everything that comes out of us is corrupt and corrupts everything it touches. — Anything touched by the unclean man or woman (clothes, bed, saddle, chair, or another person) was thereby made unclean. If a person even sneezed in your presence during the time of his uncleanness, though intending you no harm, the spread of his spit in the air, if it touched you, made you unclean.
This is what we are by nature, at heart, in the essence of our beings — Unclean! The heart of man is a polluted fountain. Human nature is an overflowing cesspool of uncleanness, constantly oozing corruption. It is hopelessly defiled and defiling. Awake or asleep, sitting, standing, or lying down, we are defiled and defiling. Our very touch conveys pollution.
This is a humbling lesson to us proud creatures. But it is true and faithful. Leviticus 15 is but a mirror reflecting our nature. It leaves us nothing in which to glory. We may boast of our refinement, our moral sense, our dignity, and our goodness; but God calls it as he sees it, uncleanness!
These thirty-three verses of foul ugliness accurately portray what we are by nature, all of us: young and old, men and women, rich and poor, believer and unbeliever (Matthew 15:18-19; Romans 7:18). Fallen humanity is a polluted fountain. All its streams are polluted. It cannot send forth anything that is holy, pure, good, or beneficial. It only oozes corruption.
Looks on the Heart
We are all unclean from the inside out, unclean by birth, unclean by nature, unclean at heart. In the light of this fact, the second thing taught in this passage should get the attention of all who are privileged to know it. Oh, may God drive it home! — “The Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). — God is not fooled by our masks. He is not blinded by our disguises. His judgment is not perverted by our bribes. His vision is not clouded by our flattering words. The Lord God sees us as we really are at heart.
Nothing on this earth is more terrifying to a religious hypocrite than this fact. — “The Lord looketh on the heart!” Yet, nothing is more comforting to a believer (John 21:17).
Third, the Lord God almighty, he who looks upon our foul, corrupt hearts is so infinitely holy and pure that he cannot and will not tolerate any uncleanness (v. 31). If a man or woman who was unclean were allowed to come into the camp of Israel and approach the tabernacle of God, the unclean would make the whole camp and the tabernacle itself unclean. Therefore, the unclean had to stay away from the camp, and were banished from the tabernacle under penalty of death. He who is God, the triune Jehovah, is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity (Habakkuk 1:13).
If you and I are to enter into heaven at last, if we are to be accepted of the thrice holy God, if we are to be saved, we must be separated from our uncleanness, completely, utterly, absolutely separated from our uncleanness (Psalm 24:3-4; Isaiah 35:8; 52:1; 60:21; Revelation 21:17; 22:14-15). — Oh, let me not die in my uncleanness!
A Way of Cleansing
Fourth, here in Leviticus 15, this great, august, infinitely holy Lord God shows us that he has made a way for us to be separated from our uncleanness, a way of cleansing. Oh, bless his holy name and rejoice! God himself, he who cannot look upon iniquity, has made a way for unclean sinners to be made clean.
“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. 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: 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.” (Leviticus 15:13-15)
The running water and the atoning sacrifice both speak of Christ’s death as the sinners’ Substitute. When he was pierced, both blood and water gushed out from his heart upon sinful man. The blood was our atonement. The water was our cleansing. It speaks of God the Holy Spirit and the word of his grace by which sinners are made clean experimentally.
There is a way for sinners to be made clean. But the only way we can be made clean from our corruption, the only way we can be made clean from sin before God’s all-seeing eye is by being washed in that fountain drawn from Immanuel’s veins (Zechariah 12:10 - 13:1).
The unclean could not make himself clean; but he had to personally wash in the running water and bring the sacrifice God required. So it is with us. We cannot make ourselves clean. We cannot put away one sin. Christ put our sins away. But we must plunge into the fountain of his blood. We must bring God the sacrifice he requires. We must trust the Son of God. And that one who is made clean is restored. No matter how unclean he has been, no matter how long, he is restored, perfectly, completely restored!
Have you noticed in going through the Book of Leviticus, that in the ceremonies of the law, pardon was never immediately conferred? In the cases before us, those who were unclean had to wait for pardon, restoration, and cleansing for seven days. That is not so in the gospel (Mark 1:40-41). In this Gospel Day, pardon and cleansing by Christ Jesus is immediate. Restoration is immediate and complete.
Touch of Faith
Here’s the fifth thing taught in Leviticus 15. — The only way we can be made whole from our uncleanness is by touching the Lord Jesus Christ. In verses 25-30, the Holy Spirit gives us a picture that I am just sure was intended to be prophetic. He speaks of a woman whose issue of blood lasted a long, long time.
“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. 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. And whosoever toucheth those things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. But if she be cleansed of her issue, then she shall number to herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean. 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. 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.”
Matthew, Mark, and Luke were all inspired by God the Holy Spirit to tell us of such a woman, a woman who had an issue of blood for twelve long years. For twelve years, she lived in misery, weakness, isolation, and uncleanness, as much as possible keeping aloof from family and friends, lest she spread uncleanness among them. She had wasted all her substance upon physicians of no value and was none better, but only grew worse.
What a picture of God’s grace this woman is! Here is a sinner conscious of her uncleanness, her pollution, mourning over her weak and wicked heart, trying every remedy that man can suggest, yet still sick, sad, and broken hearted. But she cannot stop her corruption. Her soul runs out with sin.
Then, someone tells her about the Lord Jesus. Oh, what a friend! She hears that just the night before he calmed the sea at its height of the storm. She hears how he had gone all the way across the stormy, treacherous sea to save a poor, lost maniac in Gadara. Then, she hears that he is passing her way.
She makes her way through the crowd and sees and hears him for herself. She is persuaded that if he will, he can make her clean. She perceives that he is himself the very Fountain of Life. She says within herself, “He is so infinitely full of life and love and power and grace, that if I could but touch the hem of his garment, I would be made whole.” — She did! — And she was!
She brought no gift. She had spent all her living already on physicians of no value. She brought nothing like a cure already begun. She was “nothing bettered, but rather grew worse.” She had no long-waiting time to show as a plea for her sincerity. She had just come that morning. She offered no repentance. Until now, her regret was that none of her chosen physicians had been able to help her. She made no promises of love. She had no love to promise. She was only now about to see him who alone is worthy of love. She did not even offer a prayer! She just drew near and touched him.
The result was immediate cure. Sin and grace met. Uncleanness and cleanness met. The result was this. — The Savior’s virtue went out of him into her and she was made immediately whole and clean. — That is as clear a picture of saving faith as is to be found in the Book of God.
After presenting her turtle-doves at Jerusalem, how often she might have walked the seashore with Jarius’ daughter. Remember Jarius’ daughter was born the same year that she had begun her issue of blood; and Jarius’ daughter was raised from the dead on the same day she was healed. I can almost hear them singing the Savior’s praises together as they walked in sweet fellowship. — Jarius’ daughter saying to her older sister, “Who healeth all thy diseases?” — This woman saying to her younger sister, “Who redeemeth thy life from destruction?” (Psalm 103:3-4).
Many years ago, after driving across the country preaching the gospel, Evangelist Rolfe Barnard and his wife stopped in Yellowstone National Park at Old Faithful, the famous geyser. After standing there for a while, Barnard knelt and dipped his handkerchief in the water and washed his face and his dirty hands. Then, he sang a verse of Cowper’s great hymn.
“There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains:
Lose all their guilty stains,
Lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.”
When he had finished the first verse, someone in the small crowd behind him asked, “Preacher, can we join you.? And they sang to God’s praise what I hope you sing to his praise from your heart.
The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in His day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away:
Wash all my sins away,
Wash all my sins away;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.
Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power,
Till all the ransomed church of God
Be saved, to sin no more:
Be saved, to sin no more,
Be saved, to sin no more;
Till all the ransomed church of God
Be saved, to sin no more.
E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die:
And shall be till I die,
And shall be till I die;
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.
When this poor, lisping, stammering tongue
Lies silent in the grave,
Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
I’ll sing Thy power to save:
I’ll sing Thy power to save,
I’ll sing Thy power to save;
Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
I’ll sing Thy power to save!”