The Remarkable Consequence of Ritual Cleansing

Ritual Baths along Way of the Patriarchs or Way of the Fathers. The name is used in biblical narratives that it was frequently traveled by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Samaria, Israel

I am reading through the Bible again this year, but I am reading it in chronological order using the You Version Bible app.  I am not sure how old I was when I realized that the books of the Old Testament are not in chronological order and that events in one book overlap events in other books. But that isn’t the point of this blog piece.

I am in Leviticus right now. The struggle is real! So many laws! So many times the text goes over the same things, or so it seems, but I am trying to maintain focus, and I am asking the Spirit for help in understanding what is going on, what God is saying, what He is foreshadowing, etc.

The last couple of days I have been reading the instructions for all the various types of offerings (animal sacrifices if we want to be blunt), and I have just gotten into laws for ceremonial cleansing for various “leprosies” and other “unclean” conditions. It can seem so mundane, archaic, maybe even naive and unenlightened to a modern mind.

For instance, it doesn’t take too long to figure out that all kinds of skin conditions were labeled leprosy. When we read in the English Standard Version about leprosy in houses, we realize that it’s probably talking about mold. (Some translations call it mold in fact.) The vocabulary and understanding of the Bronze Age mind was limited. It’s no wonder the Richard Dawkins of the world, reading these passages with a 21st Century mind, scoff at first blush.

But, underneath that temptation to scoff is a heavy dose of pride and lack of appreciation for what God is doing in the information and instruction that He was inspiring Moses to write in these passages. God was speaking to them in their language and according to their understanding to set the stage for a global plan that would be unveiled over many centuries and millennia that, even now in the 21st Century, is unfolding and being revealed.

Jesus is the key that unlocks the door to the Old Testament Scriptures.

I don’t claim to have all the answers or all the insights, though I am reminded of the words of Jesus to the Pharisees: “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39-40)  For the scoffer, Jesus might have said, “You don’t study the Scriptures because you think that they are mythical superstition that has no life. Those Scriptures testify about me, and you refuse to come to me to have life!”

Jesus is the key that unlocks the door to the Old Testament Scriptures. But, I still struggle sometimes to find the relevance, significance or meaning in some of these passages. I’ll be honest. I am sure I’m not alone.

One thought comes back to me today as was I reading about the ceremonial cleansing rituals. A thought that goes back many years, but with a new twist today. It has occurred to me before that many of the cleansing laws, laws about what animals they can eat and not eat, and so on, acted like in place of our modern knowledge of germs, disease and other health dangers that the people in that time simply didn’t know. I have long been struck by that thought, but I had never made the additional connection that strikes me with significance today.

Here is the twist. The descendants of Abraham are, indeed, like the stars in the sky and grains of sand in the world today. They have survived many centuries and millennia. Abraham lived 2000 or more years before the birth of Christ, and his descendants remain in the world today as a recognizable people group though they are scattered all over the world.

That the descendants of Abraham are so well-documented and traceable back to him, though scattered far and wide around the world is, itself, remarkable. Abraham was a nomad, and the generations that followed him down to Moses were all nomads for hundreds of years, including the 400+ years they sojourned in Egypt, until they settled, finally, in permanent dwellings in the area we call Israel today. But they lived there only temporarily.

The nation became divided in the time of Solomon between north and south, Israel and Judah, and both halves of the nation were exiled to Babylon at different times. Miraculously, they returned to the abandoned land and repopulated it a generation later, but by 70 AD, they were driven out of the land again by the Romans, scattered to the winds. While Abraham’s descendants lived in the area of Judea for nearly 2000 years, off and on, Abraham’s descendants were scattered for the subsequent 2000 years around the world, in every region and country of the world – yet they remained a distinct people group throughout all of that time.

That is truly remarkable. Chalk it up to those very rigorous and detailed laws for that result. Those laws became the glue that held Abraham’s descendants together and kept them from assimilating and melding into every people group among which they settled around the world over the last 2000 years. Has any people group in the history of mankind been restored to a geographical area of their origin after two millennia?

And the other amazing thing is that Abraham’s descendants have prospered wherever they have gone. They prospered in the free for all, war-torn area that Abraham settled, despite of arriving there late with no claim to the land. They prospered in Egypt despite being held captive there as slaves for over 400 years. They prospered in Babylon in the 70 years of their captivity there and were returned to their homeland with funds and resources to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. Unheard of! What foreign king did that for his captives that he conquered in that time?

But, perhaps, most remarkably, the descendants of Abraham who were scattered by the Roman Empire with the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD remained a cohesive, distinctive people group for the next 2000 wherever they ended up around the world, not just among themselves in the various pockets where they found themselves, but in relation to all the rest wherever they were found anywhere in the world. And they prospered. Wherever they went.

Just look at the accomplishments of the Jewish people over the centuries. In 2017, Jews comprised about 0.2% of the world population, but Jews had won 22% of all the Nobel Peace Prizes awarded. (See Jewish Accomplishments) The list of great Jewish thinkers and contributors to society in all areas of human endeavor is long and impressive, so much so that non-Jews take notice, wonder and even debate why it is true. (See The Debate over Jewish Achievement)

Of the reasons people have advanced, many or most of them go back to the laws of Moses. Jews have always put a premium on literacy because they valued Scripture. Strong family values, a strong sense of community, rigor and devotion to religious ritual, healthy diet, self-discipline, verbal skills, standing up for what they believe in, a strong commitment to ethical behavior, rationality and duty all stem from the Mosaic law.

But I still really haven’t gotten to the point of this blog piece, the thing that occurs to me today as I wade through Levitical laws on cleansing, the twist. It seems so mundane and onerous, all those laws on cleansing, all the many things that required washing, removing “outside the camp”, even whole houses that were to be deconstructed and removed for “leprosy” in the walls. From a modern health care point of view, however, it makes sense.

And that’s the twist. One of the reasons Abraham’s descendants have lived long and prospered is surely related to these detailed cleansing instructions. They were presented to the people as religious ritual. These laws were put in the context of the holy and unholy, the clean and the unclean, having religious overtones, but they carried with them physical, health benefits.

God’s wisdom is surely higher than ours. The people listening to Moses would have known nothing of the health benefits of regular cleansing. Mankind didn’t know anything about germs until relatively modern times. The idea was first proposed in 1025 AD, expanded on in 1546 and 1762, but it wasn’t until the work of Louis Pasteur and others beginning in the 1850’s that we really began to understand the significance of germs and importance of avoiding them. (See Germ Theory of Disease) Yet, God’s careful and detailed instructions to Moses protected Abraham’s descendants from germs for almost 3000 years before those discoveries!


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