Maybe Cleanliness IS Next to Godliness

Today’s reading is almost exclusively about purification, and is usually presented without any moral commentary, indicating that these laws are ceremonial and hygienic in nature. They are instrumentally spiritual rather than inherently spiritual, so to speak.

What is amazing about God’s law is that he can use the instrumental to accomplish his ultimate purpose: his people’s righteous relationship with himself to the fullest realization of his glory.

God’s providential hand in even these laws of ceremonial purification and cleanliness is evident in several ways:

  1. Extra-biblical research has indicated that many of the condemned practices were associated with idol worship in neighboring societies. While nothing is inherently wrong with, say, boiling a baby goat in it’s mother’s milk (it’s still weird to me!), if that’s the common practice of your neighbors in the worship of the Baals or Molech, it could become a stumbling block–an instrumental wrong. Sound familiar to the New Testament discussion of the morality of eating meat sacrificed to idols?
  2. Modern scientific research has confirmed the practical wisdom of these laws. “Unclean pork” is a carrier of bacteria that would have been hard to eliminate with ancient cooking techniques. Vitamin K is at its highest on the 8th day after birth–the day marked for circumcision. While those aren’t the goals of the law, per se, they are certainly more than serendipitous surprises!
  3. The corruption of the law came through the hands of the Pharisees, who emphasized the law over the law-giver. While we’re free today from the law of Moses as it’s covenant has been fulfilled, several New Testament passages refer to the “law of Christ.” We, too, can render the law useless by focusing too much on it (or ignoring it altogether) to the neglect of the ultimate law-giver.

Aside: there was a book by Stern and McMillin that attempt to show God’s providential hand in the law of Moses. It’s called None of these Diseases, and is available at Amazon. I haven’t read it. If you have, I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Aside number two: I hope cleanliness really isn’t next to godliness. If it is, I’m in trouble!