The contamination of this current age calls for rigorous protection.
Kids will do anything to avoid washing their hands. I know. I was one. I can’t remember where the avoidance came from, though. Maybe it was the feeling of washing something that didn’t need it. As long as I didn’t see mud, or animal entrails, a quick scan of my palms said “clean.” That meant my hands were perfectly fine for holding a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. If the adult expectation to scrub with Lava seemed excessive; second trips to “do it right this time” were downright neurotic.
My first few times through Leviticus gave me the same feeling. God’s emphasis on cleanness seemed over the top. As a young man I had gotten used to considering my spiritual condition based on whether I could see obvious evil staining me–profanity, anger, sexual impurity, drunkenness, etc. As long as the answer to any of these came back negative, I presumed I was doing well.
But the longer we continue in the faith, the more aware we become of God’s towering holiness, and of our comparative uncleanness. And, in similar form, the further we progress in Leviticus, the more the text strives to expose that reality. An overwhelming amount of space is thus given to portray through ceremonial law the sinful state of human beings.
“Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any man has a discharge from his body, his discharge is unclean” (Lev. 15:2).
Read the following excerpt in order to get the impact of this concern (and notice some heavy repetition):
4 Every bed on which the one with the discharge lies shall be unclean, and everything on which he sits shall be unclean. 5 And anyone who touches his bed shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. 6 And whoever sits on anything on which the one with the discharge has sat shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. 7 And whoever touches the body of the one with the discharge shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. 8 And if the one with the discharge spits on someone who is clean, then he shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. 9 And any saddle on which the one with the discharge rides shall be unclean. 10 And whoever touches anything that was under him shall be unclean until the evening. And whoever carries such things shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. 11 Anyone whom the one with the discharge touches without having rinsed his hands in water shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. 12 And an earthenware vessel that the one with the discharge touches shall be broken, and every vessel of wood shall be rinsed in water.
Perhaps you’ve noticed the strange conundrum that emerges over what Leviticus 15 uses as an example of uncleanness—legitimate biological events of both men (seminal release, v. 16) and women (menstruation v. 19). Why would something God Himself established exemplify things unclean? And yet our most private and personal experiences have themselves been affected by sin. Probably no facet of our current existence has become more garbled than that related to sex. Our communications with one another, what we choose to promote, to practice, to celebrate, all converge into a dark bog that contaminates everyone who wanders into it.
“Discharge” may seem to be an awkward subject to study in mixed company, but God doesn’t care much about our wincing. He seems more bent upon making a point, which, in the New Testament sense, Jesus continued to make: “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander“ (Mt. 15:18-19). And later, Paul continued the same concern: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths” (Eph. 4:29a).
Such discharges of the heart are a real problem to us and everyone else.
The deep gloominess of the Old Testament picture however, can be offset. Where symbolic pictures of defilement abound in the Old Testament, washing with water is presented as a positive spiritual one in the New:
“Peter said to him, ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me’” (John 13:8). Beyond the Lord’s physical presence in this world, Ephesians 5:26 mentions His work in our lives of “washing with water in the word.”
Though we may not be able to absolutely restrict the amount of earthly defilement we encounter on a daily basis, thank God we can maximize our proximity to the Holy Word. This is where the divine water is indeed, as Paul called it, “The washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:5).
The cleansing element therein triggers a new beginning, which is why it is written that the person who washes shall be unclean until the evening. Evening signifies not only the end of the day, but the beginning of a new one. Genesis calls “evening and morning” a day, not “morning and evening.” This of course, does not mean we are saved all over again. It only means our original born again state once more becomes fresh to us.
Truly, our coming to the Word goes beyond the need for mere spiritual education.
Maybe we should learn from the lab workers. After being around certain pathogens, they take special care to scrub down, even if they don’t seem to visibly need it.
And nothing restores, refreshes, and protects us like a good bath in the eternal Word of God.