Sounds like: taw-hare
The author of Proverbs asked this question:
Who can say, “I have cleansed my heart, I am pure [tahar’ti] from my sin”?
The Bible has a lot to say about purity… and it is quite clear: humans can try, over and over, to be “good” and “clean” and “pure”, but really, we can’t do it on our own. It just becomes a cycle of trying to be good enough, and spiralling further down the path of regret, when we fail. And we will fail, because we’re human.
As there was not yet a solution to this problem of repeated sin, the Hebrew people practised ritual cleansing with purification offerings of animal sacrifices.
This Jewish concept of ritual cleanliness and purity makes modern people uncomfortable. Why am I considered “unclean”? I’m not bad! Am I not “good enough”? Why are we to be separated from society for a time? And what is it about those animal sacrifices?
Although these questions are valid, (as all questions are), truth be told for the most part this is a cultural/historical misunderstanding. In the ancient Jewish culture it wasn’t a sin to be “unclean”… it was just a natural part of living.
Cleanliness and purity laws were connected to the Temple, or (before the Temple) the Tabernacle. This was God’s dwelling place on earth: God-space. This was a sacred place on earth, for the Creator, completely holy and set apart.
Throughout the Tanakh (Old Testament), YHWH was the promoter of life and order, and the Adversary was the promoter of death and chaos. Purity laws, therefore, focused on keeping death out of God-space.
Let’s take a look at three of these clean/purity laws:
Skin infections, a very visual disease, could be contagious and pointed to death, if not of the whole body, at least to a part of the body (skin). For health reasons alone, a time of confinement and healing was a good and practical habit.
Sexual discharge included all fluids associated with sustaining life and giving creation a sense of order. Menstruation and semen were fluids associated with sexual activity leading, (ideally in the minds of the ancient Hebrew people), to the birth of a new human. Sexual discharge emitted outside of intercourse was like discarding God’s gift of life-giving fluids. You were losing a part of you, given by God, and therefore you weren’t “whole” as God intended you to be. Until you regained your “wholeness” you were expected to stay out of sacred space.
The touching of the dead was in no way wrong, it was a very common part of life. But it was a very tactile reminder of death, and a time to reflect on one’s own mortality. The Temple was not a place for mourning the dead, but God recognized the human need to grieve; a time of lament outside of the Temple was a good and proper thing to do.
Generally, to be unclean was a reminder of death. When we’re sick we are reminded of our frailty; when we hold the hand of a dying loved one, we are reminded of our mortality; sex and the discharges associated with it are a reminder that there is a beginning to life and an end to it. These things should make us pause and recognize that at some point we will take a final breath.
Let me reiterate: being unclean was not a sin. And the fact that humans were to not enter the Temple when they were unclean, was not meant to be a punishment. To the ancient Israelites these things were reminders of our mortality and impending death and it made no sense to invite death into the space where eternal life dwells. Life and death were never meant to co-mingle.
In contrast, becoming clean was a reminder of life under God’s holiness. Through YHWH we could overcome the finality of death; we could enter freely into the holy space, where YHWH resides. But humans needed to be made thoroughly clean, not with repeated rituals and sacrifices, but with one final sacrifice. This was the Messianic plan.
Psalm 51:1-2, 7
Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the greatness of Your compassion, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me [tahareni] from my sin…
…Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean [w-et’har]; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
To be “made clean” the early Hebrew people ritualistically followed a set of laws, which included animal sacrifice. But YHWH’s plan for the future would be to send His Anointed One (Mashiach) to be the final sacrificial lamb, making humans thoroughly clean. His death would wash away the sins of humanity and allow humans to enter YHWH’s eternal home.
To make this clear, Yeshua (Jesus) addressed all three of the purity laws mentioned above, during his ministry:
1: Skin Disease. “Jesus, are you willing?”
There is a theme in the New Testament (B’rit Chadashah) where humans, considered unclean, sought out Yeshua for help. Very early in his ministry Yeshua was sought out by a leper.
And a leper came to Jesus, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.”
Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.”
Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. And He [Jesus] sternly warned him and immediately sent him away, and He said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
Once the man was restored to “wholeness” (which is the Hebrew concept of peace), Yeshua instructed the man to present himself to the priest at the Temple. He would need to provide the offering to return to the Temple, just as was outlined in the law of Moses. But this, Yeshua said, would be a testimony. The priests needed to know what was coming.
YHWH: ‘Behold, I will bring to it health and healing, and I will heal them; and I will reveal to them an abundance of peace and truth. I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel and will rebuild them as they were at first. And I will cleanse them [w-tihar’tim] from all their iniquity by which they have sinned against Me, and I will pardon all their iniquities by which they have sinned against Me and by which they have transgressed against Me. It will be to Me a name of joy, praise and glory before all the nations of the earth which will hear of all the good that I do for them, and they will fear and tremble because of all the good and all the peace that I make for it.’
YHWH wanted to cleanse everyone from sin, but not just that, he wanted to pardon them and clear their name. To do that He would provide Yeshua, the Son in whom He was “well pleased” (Mark 1:11), to be the one final sacrifice.
2: Sexual Discharge/Life Fluids: “If I just Touch His Garments”
Again, a human sought out Jesus to be healed:
A woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years, and had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse— after hearing about Jesus, she came up in the crowd behind Him and touched His cloak. For she thought, “If I just touch His garments, I will get well.”
Immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. Immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the power proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My garments?”
And His disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing in on You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” And He looked around to see the woman who had done this. But the woman fearing and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.”
This woman would have been considered unclean for twelve years, unable to go to the Temple. She understood that her touch would make Jesus unclean (Leviticus 5:3), but her belief in his power to heal was so strong that she was compelled to break the society’s rules. The possibility to be made clean, and re-enter the Temple, would be an aching hope and this man could bring it to fruition. What she may not have realized was that her touch never put Jesus at risk for impurity. One touch and his undeniable purity immediately flowed out of him and into her. She was cleansed by faith.
3: Touching the Dead: “Please Lay your Hands”
Yet again another human sought out Jesus, this time to request healing for someone he loved:
Mark 5:21-24, 35-43
When Jesus had crossed over again in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around Him; and so He stayed by the seashore. One of the synagogue officials named Jairus came up, and on seeing Him, fell at His feet and implored Him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death; please come and lay Your hands on her, so that she will get well and live.” And He went off with him; and a large crowd was following Him and pressing in on Him…
…While He was still speaking, they came from the house of the synagogue official, saying, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the Teacher anymore?”
But Jesus, overhearing what was being spoken, said to the synagogue official, “Do not be afraid any longer, only believe.” And He allowed no one to accompany Him, except Peter and James and John the brother of James.
They came to the house of the synagogue official; and He saw a commotion, and people loudly weeping and wailing. And entering in, He said to them, “Why make a commotion and weep? The child has not died, but is asleep.” They began laughing at Him. But putting them all out, He took along the child’s father and mother and His own companions, and entered the room where the child was.
Taking the child by the hand, He said to her, “Talitha kum!” (which translated means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately, the girl got up and began to walk, for she was twelve years old. And immediately they were completely astounded. And He gave them strict orders that no one should know about this, and He said that something should be given her to eat.
Notice that Jarius’ begged Yeshua to lay his hands on his little daughter so that she would “get well and live.” He had faith that Yeshua would risk his own purity in order to heal his daughter, and allow her to truly live. But it was risky, he was asking this great rabbi, possibly even the Messiah himself, to touch the gravely ill and expose himself to unclean disease. Would this great man be willing to become unclean and separate himself from the Temple for a time, all for the sake of his little girl?
But Yeshua was at no risk. He only had the power to emit life and could not be infected with death… until he voluntarily handed himself over to be executed. In the case of this story, Yeshua didn’t just offer to heal a little sick girl, he physically touched her lifeless body, and in doing so he set her free by giving her life.
Transformed by touch!
Touch no longer makes us impure… Jesus makes us pure by his touch. His body cleansed us. His death was an atonement for our sin and overwhelming failures.
Isaiah gave us a glimpse into how we were, and are, made pure by touch:
Isaiah: In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is YHWH of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.”
And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, YHWH of hosts.”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”
Isaiah immediately realized that he was unclean. He was in the Temple of YHWH and he was not supposed to be there. This was a startling state of affairs he’d found himself in. Entering into YHWH’s Temple unclean, meant death, and Isaiah, in a panic, realized that he was doomed, and said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips.” The laws were strict! Death to those who enter the Temple unclean:
“Thus you shall keep the sons of Israel separated from their uncleanness, so that they will not die in their uncleanness by their defiling My tabernacle that is among them.”
But in Isaiah’s vision, he was not struck dead, rather a seraphim pressed a hot coal against his lips, and he heard these words: “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”
Death was not what God had in mind. God had always been anti-death and pro-life. He’s a forgiver, a purifier and a refiner. His touch was life affirming:
“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says YHWH of hosts. “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a smelter and a purifier [u-m’taher] of silver, and He will purify [w-tihar] the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to YHWH offerings in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to YHWH as in the days of old and as in former years.”
A refiner was a medal purifier, and a fuller was the person who laundered recently cut sheep’s wool. These were hot and dirty jobs, but they purified something. They took something dirty and with the touch of their hands they cleansed it. The only way we can truly have life, is to be touched by God. Yeshua physically touched people, but today we need to have our hearts touched:
“For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean [t’howrim] water on you, and you will be clean [u-t’har’tem]; I will cleanse [a-taher] you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.”
Clean from the Inside Out
The Messiah came to promote this New Heart and New Spirit and when He departed the earth, it was the time for the Holy Spirit to take root. Until that time, however, society, in YHWH’s eyes, remained unclean.
“As for your adulteries and your lustful neighings, the lewdness of your prostitution on the hills in the field, I have seen your abominations. Woe to you, O Jerusalem! How long will you remain unclean [lo ti’ta’hari]?”
The people of Israel had turned towards other gods, who demanded child sacrifice and temple prostitution; in war the people plundered wealth and created widows; men had announced themselves as prophets and spewed lies; the poor and the foreigner had been oppressed; and the culture was commonly described as “profane” and “violent”:
And the word of YHWH, came to me, saying, “Son of man, say to her, ‘You are a land that is not cleansed or rained on in the day of indignation.’ There is a conspiracy of her prophets in her midst, like a roaring lion tearing the prey. They have devoured lives; they have taken treasure and precious things; they have made many widows in the midst of her. Her priests have done violence to My law and have profaned My holy things; they have made no distinction between the holy and the profane, and they have not taught the difference between the unclean and the clean [l’tahowr]; and they hide their eyes from My sabbaths, and I am profaned among them. Her princes within her are like wolves tearing the prey, by shedding blood and destroying lives in order to get dishonest gain. Her prophets have smeared whitewash for them, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord YHWH,’ when YHWH, has not spoken. The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery, and they have wronged the poor and needy and have oppressed the sojourner without justice. I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one.”
YHWH found no one, so He provided His own.
Yeshua, as the Messiah, certainly had a lot to say about being clean:
Jesus: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
For the Pharisees, it was all about being ritualistically clean, and outwardly clean. But Yeshua saw right through them. When the Pharisees accused the disciples of not washing their hands, Jesus pointed out the status of their hearts:
Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” And He answered and said to them, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘honour your father and mother,’ and, ‘ he who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death.’
But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,” he is not to honour his father or his mother.’
And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘this people honour me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me.’
Good Practise, Better Practise
Washing our own hands is a good practise, but it has nothing to do with our relationship with YHWH. It does not make us closer to God and it’s not more important than loving our neighbours or honouring our parents. We’re only helping ourselves when we wash our hands, but when Jesus washed the disciples feet he was serving them.
Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”…
…So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”
Just like Yeshua we need to touch the “unclean” and make YHWH’s love spread to others, like a contagion. This is the better practise. We are called to heal and to touch the nations with YHWH’s love.
Cleansed by the Blood!
When Yeshua handed himself over to be the final sacrificial lamb, his blood paid the price. No longer are we enslaved to death. We are now free to live and enter God-space! But we need to live as purely as we can, and then honestly ask for forgiveness when we fail:
1 John 1:7-9
But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Being clean, meant being able to enter God’s holy place. This is what Yeshua did for us. The author of the letter to the Hebrews put it this way:
Hebrews 10:19-23, 26-27
Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful…
…[But] if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and ‘the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries’.
Today there is no longer animal sacrifices for sin. Jesus was the final sacrifice. But unlike the Israelites, we can’t kill an animal as an atonement and say we are forgiven. Now that Jesus has paid the price and we know in our hearts the beautiful truth of YHWH’s love and forgiveness, we cannot continue living on the path of sin and destruction. It makes no sense to get dirty once you’ve already been cleaned. Knowledge is a powerful thing, but it also makes us accountable. We have to choose: are we advocates or adversaries of God? Does being washed in the blood of the Messiah mean anything to you?
Next week: breach/gap