What Did it Mean to Be Unclean?

How an Old Testament Ritual Offers Hope to Today’s Problem

Thumbing through our Old Testament, we often come across references to people or objects being “unclean.” What in the world does that mean?

What Did it Mean to Be Unclean

(Photo by Photodune)

From our perspective, when we come across something unclean we toss it in the dishwasher, clothes washer, or garbage can. And if a person is unclean, they simply step in the tub and scrub away the grime.

Problem solved.

We hear “unclean” and we think of something as contaminated, tainted, or unhygienic. But in the Old Testament, “unclean” had a different meaning—one that affected one’s walk with God.

What did it mean to be unclean in the Old Testament? (And why we should care about it today?)

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Your Heart is a Reservoir for Truth

Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah mirror how God gave both rain and His Word for life.

I recently had a man in his 60s tell me, “I have to spend daily time reading the Bible. I mean every single day. I need it.” His words simply affirmed what the Bible makes clear for all of us.

Reading the Bible—Your Heart is a Reservoir of Truth

(Photo: A cistern near Michmash. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

God used a simple, physical resource like rain water to teach the spiritual truth that He alone is the true source of life. This truth hasn’t changed for us. The need for water illustrates the need for truth—both essential for life.

When the rainy season begins in Israel each fall, the High Holidays draw to a close with the celebration of the holiday, Shemini Atzeret, which means, “the assembly of the eighth [day].” (The holiday originates from Leviticus 23:36.) Following the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, the act of bringing a sacrifice to God was replaced with the tradition of praying for rain, called Tefilat Geshem, the only exclusive ritual of Shemini Atzeret.

Where there is water in Israel, there is life. And where there isn’t water? The rule in antiquity was simple. Pray for rain and dig a cistern.

If you’re feeling dry in your spiritual life, there’s only one way to slake your thirst.

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