Numbers 31:19-24 – Oh Vey! Is God Obsessed with Cleanliness or What!

Posted: November 9, 2016 in Book of Numbers

Numbers 31:19-24

After the Victory over the Midianites

I have a friend that is obsessed with cleanliness. Hand sanitizer is his friend. He will not touch cups that have been touched by others. He will wash his hands more than any man I have ever seen. I have seen him accidently drink from another person’s cup and he immediately in a frenzy went and brushed his teeth and was tempted to pour antibacterial soap in his mouth. He probably secretly sanitizes his hands after shaking hands with people. He probably avoids using public bathrooms unless it is an emergency. If someone picked food off the floor and eats it under “the five second rule”, he would barf right then and there. We pick on him about it but you have to admire a guy that sticks to his guns about cleanliness like he does. Most of us don’t care. I have the attitude of “God made dirt and dirt don’t hurt!” My friend, however, would avoid dirt and uncleanliness at all cost. There are certain jobs that you would never see him take such as a janitor or garbage man – for real. I am not sure if he would take those jobs if they were the only jobs that were available to him. We all have our obsessions. I have mine. My friend’s is just more public than mine. I am obsessed with keeping my finances organized and scheduled and knowing to the penny what my correct balances in my accounts. That is less obvious than my friend’s obsession with cleanliness but an obsession not the less.

 

It was my friend’s obsession with staying clean, though, that immediately leapt into my mind as I read through today’s passage. God seems obsessed with cleanliness and purity, particularly in the Old Testament and we see that obsession again here.

 

19 “Anyone who has killed someone or touched someone who was killed must stay outside the camp seven days. On the third and seventh days you must purify yourselves and your captives. 20 Purify every garment as well as everything made of leather, goat hair or wood.”

 

21 Then Eleazar the priest said to the soldiers who had gone into battle, “This is what is required by the law that the Lord gave Moses: 22 Gold, silver, bronze, iron, tin, lead 23 and anything else that can withstand fire must be put through the fire, and then it will be clean. But it must also be purified with the water of cleansing. And whatever cannot withstand fire must be put through that water. 24 On the seventh day wash your clothes and you will be clean. Then you may come into the camp.”

 

As we can see in this passage, God has a thing for cleanliness and purity. Although there is no verse in the Bible that says, “Cleanliness is next to godliness” to the surprise of many, God is concerned about cleanliness, purity as signs of holiness in His presence.

 

Purity qualified one to participate in worship, an activity central to the life of ancient Israel. Breaking that purity was a serious matter. Ritual impurity came as a result of bodily emissions (Leviticus 15:1 ), by way of disease or menstrual flow, or discharge of semen. This chapter also shows that such impurity could be spread by contact, for anything coming into contact with the unclean person had to be purified. Leviticus 12:1 also discusses impurity associated with childbirth, probably because of the discharge of blood. Blood related to the mysterious power of life, and any loss of blood called for purification. Ritual impurity also came as a result of contact with a corpse since death was an enemy of God ( Numbers 19:1 ). Participation in war could thus cause impurity. Impurity, finally, was brought on by contact with foreign gods. This was probably the background of the need for purification when the people returned from Exile in Babylon. The priests and Levites purified themselves first and then the people and then the city gates and wall (Isaiah 52:11 ; Ezra 6:20 ; Nehemiah 12:30 ). This also prepared them for worship.

 

he purification ritual usually started with a waiting period beginning when the cause of the impurity stopped. Less serious causes brought a waiting period of one day. Contact with a corpse (Numbers 19:11, Numbers 19:11,19:14), birth of a male child (Leviticus 12:2), the cure of leprosy (Leviticus 14:8-9), and other discharges (Leviticus 15:13 ,Leviticus 15:13,15:19 ,Leviticus 15:19,15:28 ), brought about a waiting period of seven days. The waiting period after the birth of a girl was fourteen days (Leviticus 12:5). The same period applied to the quarantine of a suspected leper (Leviticus 13:4-6).

 

A cleansing agent was required: water, blood, or fire (Numbers 31:23). Water, the most common purifying agent, symbolized cleansing and was used in the rituals related to a waiting period. The person was to wash the clothes and bathe the body (Leviticus 15:7). Blood was used to cleanse the altar and the holy place (Leviticus 16:14-19). It was mixed with other ingredients for cleansing from leprosy (Leviticus 14:1 ) and contact with the dead (Numbers 19:1).

 

When I reflect on my friend’s obsession with cleanliness, I think of how God forced His people to concentrate on what was necessary to be holy. Part of the requirements of these cleansings in the Old Testament was separation from the daily life of Israel. It was a time to reflect while being purified. The Israelites had time to reflect on what God has done in their lives. It was also a reminder of how holy God is and how impure we are. We must prepare ourselves for worshiping Him. We must spend time immersed in his Word to cleanse ourselves of that which is unholy and unhealthy for us. The purity time and the cleansing time is something that we should think about. Do you take time to purify yourself through reading and meditating on God’s Word. Do you take time in prayer on Sundays before you go to church to worship God? Are we spending time reflecting on the sins that have made us impure before His holy presence?

 

Only when we take time to reflect and expose ourselves to the purity of the Word, are we convicted of our sins that we continually commit and make ourselves unclean before God. Only when we see how we are desperately unable to be holy on our own merit, do we see the desperate need that we have for Jesus and His sacrifice for our sins. It is only through the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ that we are set free from being permanently banished outside God’s camp. We are so in need of the purity and the cleansing of Jesus over us that we are sentenced to hell in His absence as our Savior. We are filthy rags at best before God without Jesus’ covering through our salvation in Him when we accept Him as our Savior and Lord.

 

Are we too busy with living life that we forget to spend time with God through His Word? If we let the grime build up on our lives withoug reading and meditating on God’s Word in set aside times of devotional study, we cannot cleanse ourselves. We let sin slip into our lives if we do not stay in His Word. We let it’s grime become acceptable when we are not convicted by the cleansing and purifying fire of God’s Word. Do you set time aside to purify yourself in God’s Word? Maybe, that is why you believe some sins are not as bad as others and why you accept some sins as not being sins? When we read God’s Word and think on it, we are convicted of that which is unholy in our lives through the action of the Holy Spirit in our souls. He is our resident purifying fire. We must be exposed to His purifying fire through reading and wanting to read and wanting to meditate and wanting to pray about how God’s Word applies to our lives. Take time from today to be in God’s Word so that you can be exposed to its purifying fire and its cleansing water that shows us that we need Jesus everyday!

 

Amen and Amen.

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