The context is important for the understanding of this passage. It is part of a section of Leviticus that gives instructions on purity and impurity, where the focus shifts from the sanctuary to everyday life. Chapters 11-15 of Leviticus deal with a variety of situations that produce uncleanness, situations that defile a body or environment and thus limit a person's ability to come near to God's holy presence. These purification rituals for an unclean house are part of the purification rituals for unclean persons or clothes, which are described as showing sara'at.
1,2 This in a person is often translated as leprosy, but actually covers a wide range of skin disease and includes mildew on cloth or a house. These were designated as a major impurity. 3 Such serious disease made their victim unclean whilst they were present. 4 The instructions for inspection, removal and subsequent purification of a house match those for a person with skin disease5 and would have made analogous sense to the original reader6. Each ritual can be seen to be dealing with a covering, one layer covering another in turn being the skin, clothing and finally the house.
Background to Passage The worldview was then to think corporately and so what affected one person or house, would affect the whole community. Therefore, it was vital that any uncleanness was dealt with in what was deemed the appropriate way. This way was the purification rituals, which restored cleanness. The integrity of material objects closely related to the body such as houses and clothing had a serious impact on the wholeness of the community. 8 It is less emotive to discuss impurity issues regarding a house, because a house cannot be accused of sin.
It is therefore, a helpful passage to explore the underlying principles and apply them. Leviticus 14 and 15 do not use the word sin to define the disease and there is no moral association with the condition of the house or the person. 9 10The purification rituals provide a way that is non-accusatory for the society to recognise, protect and where appropriate restore, innocent victims of disease11. A heptadic foundation for the world was observed then,12 with the result that the number 7 (mentioned in the passage as 7 days between inspections) was associated with priestly functions and holiness13.
The creation theology of the time is thought to have been that God designed the world to be ordered and there are careful boundaries between order and chaos. 14 An example is the separation of major parts of creation, e. g. sea and dry land. 15 Order is related to life, cleanness and holiness, chaos to death and impurity. A crossing of a boundary will produce chaos, such as disease in a house. Rituals are then needed to restore order. Order is defined as purity and separation from uncleanness. 16 They restore the gap between affliction and healing, re-enabling God's creational intentions.
17 It is suggested that there was an underlying understanding of graded cleanness with movement of a community toward cleanness or away from it. The state of impurity would prevent any movement towards holiness and so rituals for restoration of purity were required. The placement of people or things outside the camp or town was done for the maintenance of the purity of the whole community. Purification is seen as the reverse of defilement and thus the materials of purification are often associated with life, for example blood.
18 A delay in purification for a major impurity would have been considered a serious offence19. There is an interesting argument that the removal of demons from the Israelite religion was in contrast to the Canaanite religions of that time. Leviticus separates impurity from belief in demons. It reframes it as a move against God's honour, prescribing specific actions for removal of impurity rather than laying the blame on demons. 20 Underlying Principles and Transition to Sermon
The rituals in Leviticus can be described as a means by which the community of that time engaged in theological reflection 21, and therefore they are an excellent basis for a sermon. The laws can be placed into categories of human-divine, human-human and human-creation. However there are arguments that this law about houses could be placed into any one of these categories. It reflects the human-divine relationship because of the associated purity functions of the law. It also could be said to preserve the human-human relationship in that obedience is required to report disease in your house so as not to infect another person's house.
Finally there is a case for it being put in the human-creation category because it reflects a concern for the treatment of disease and the maintenance of the order of creation. The sermon has attempted to reflect each of these categories, with its discussion of individual purity, concern for our immediate neighbour and society and also appreciation of environmental issues. The aim of the sermon was to apply the law about a diseased house to our individual life and our community life and thus the structure of the sermon moves out from individual restoration of cleanness to community issues.
It has been suggested that the Hebrew word for house is also the word for a line of kinsmen22, which is explored in the consideration of local neighbours in the sermon, ie those who are physically close to us in our community. One application is identification of things that need to be removed from our lives. Another is to have consideration for the effect of our property on those around us. A further modern application is to look after our homes in a way that does not damage the environment. Each of these has been explored in the sermon.
The form has sought to be open and engaging in a variety of different ways to enable the congregation to think about the issues from the law for themselves. Different styles have been used to appeal to different types of listener. A modern, personal illustration has been used to bridge the gap between then and now. The narrative context of the law has been put to use, with the story of the house and its feelings in a poetic form. Application to the community has been explored in a more descriptive style using a modern TV programme as an illustration.