Monday, February 24, 2014

Clean and Unclean

One Year Bible
New Testament passage for Monday, February 24, 2014:  Mark 7:1-23

Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem. Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault.For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders.  Mark 7:1-3 (NKJV)

The Most Revolutionary Passage

William Barclay, the great Bible commentator of 50 years ago, says of Mark 7, "Although it may not seem so now, this passage, when it was spoken, was well-nigh the most revolutionary passage in the New Testament."  At issue is CLEAN AND UNCLEAN.  Holy and un-holy.  Acceptable to God or rejected by God.  It starts with the strange topic of "hand-washing" but ends with EVERYTHING.

Mark 7 addresses the underlying theme of the entire Bible!  How can a man be clean before God?  The Pharisees answered this question one way, while Jesus answered totally differently.

The Old Testament is full of rules and regulations concerning what is clean and unclean.  It is a huge part of Jewish faith.  At issue is something called "the traditions of the elders".  What are we talking about here?  For the Jew, the Law means basically two things: 1) the Ten Commandments and 2) the first five books of the Old Testament (the Pentateuch -- Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).  This is also called the Torah.

Myriad instructions flow out of the Torah detailing matters of morals and ceremonial purity.  Particularly, Leviticus 11-15 and Numbers 19 talk about dietary issues, touching a leper, women after child-birth, household hygiene, and much more.  One thing you can say about the Pharisees and their legal experts called Scribes: they were serious about the Law.  They were not satisfied with general application or varied interpretation.  They wanted clear definition between right and wrong.  No gray.

Washing and Eating

Two aspects of scribal rules and regulations are addressed in Mark 7: 1) washing of hands, and 2) dietary law -- what you eat.  Jesus ties these two together.  At first glance, we might today think this deals with personal hygiene and healthy eating. But that is not the point at all.  This is not good advice about better living.  The thrust is CEREMONIAL. This involves RITUAL CLEANNESS.  The Scribes and Pharisees believed that adherence to proper hand-washing and kosher diet made you either CLEAN or UNCLEAN before God.  That's serious.

Dr. Barclay gives us the details of the Pharisaical requirements.

1.  Before every meal, and between each of the courses, the hands had to be washed a certain way.

2.  The water for this washing had to be pure -- stored in sealed jars that had been cleansed.

3.  Hands first had to be held finger tips pointed up while a log* of water was poured over them running down to the wrist.

4.  While the hands were still wet, each hand had to be cleansed with the fist of the other.  (Your Bible may have a marginal reading on Mark 7:3 that says "wash their hands with the fist.")  The fist would rub the palm and back of the opposite hand.

5.  Now the hands had to be held with finger tips pointed down.  They were still wet but the pure water on them was now unclean because of the scrubbing.

6.  New pure water was poured over the hands washing off the dirty water.

The result was hands that were ceremonially clean.

Attacked by Demons?

Now here's why this was so important.  When a Jew failed to do this, he was not just guilty of bad manners, he was considered unclean before God.  In fact, a man who ate with unclean hands was subject to attack by a demon named Shibta.  They believed that a demon named Shibta (look it up) rested on a man's hands. Rabbi Aruch had taught: "Shibta is an evil spirit which sits upon men's hands in the night: and if any touch his food with unwashen hands, that spirit sits upon that food, and there is danger from it."

When Jesus and his disciples ignored these traditions, the scribes and Pharisees were astounded and incensed.  In their minds, Jesus was attacking the Torah.  Jesus responded by laying down the New Testament principle for CLEANSING and CLEANNESS.  He addressed their precious dietary laws. He says it's not a matter of what is OUTSIDE, but rather what is INSIDE.

"There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things the defile a man."  (Mark 7:15)

"Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?" (Mark 7:18-19)

Eating a Ham Sandwich to the Glory of God

Righteousness is no longer a matter of THINGS -- "touch not, taste not" (Col. 2:21).  Our righteousness is stronger than that.  It is based on the PERSON of Jesus and heart-relationship with Him.  It is no longer built on my PERFORMANCE but rather His PERFECTION.

This is revolutionary!  It is opposite to human reasoning.  Defilement is no longer a matter of ritual ceremonial compliance.  I am not sinning when I eat a ham sandwich.  This is what Paul meant when he said, "30 But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks?  31 Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (I Co. 10:30-31)

I am sinning when I hate my brother.  No longer is it what goes in my mouth, but what comes out of my heart.  That's the words of our Liberator!

* A log was equal to one and a half egg-shells full of water.

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