WORD STUDY – DEFILED – טמא
Numbers 5:2: “Command the children of Israel, that they put out of the camp every leper, and every one that hath an issue, and whosoever is defiled by the dead:”
I listened to a very interesting sermon on line. The pastor was preaching from the Book of Luke but he referenced Numbers 5:2. In the Book of Luke Jesus healed a leaper, a woman with an issue of blood and he raised a person from the dead. The Jews knew about Numbers 5:2 and yet these three types of people who were to be outcast were the very ones that Jesus touched and healed. I kind of think Jesus was making a statement here.
It is known today that such a demand for separation from lepers,discharge of blood and dead bodies is only practical for hygienic purposes. At the end of World War II the British were approaching a Nazi Concentration Camp. Fearful of what the British would find and wanting to buy some time to clean up their crimes they sent a delegation of officers with a white flag asking to speak to the British general. In a meeting, which was actually filmed, the German officers told the British general that there was an outbreak of typhoid fever in the camp and suggested that the British just bypass the camp. The Germans promised to not shoot at them if the British would not shoot at the Germans. No disrespect to the British but they almost fell for the ploy hook line and sinker. They bypassed the camp, walking right past the Germans and no one fired a shot. However, the stench from the camp caused the British to have second thoughts and they investigated and discovered the horror that the Nazi’s tried to cover up.
God had a very good reason for separating the defiled as we are fully aware of today. The ancients had no concept of microbes and the existence of a microscopic world of life that existed beyond what the naked eye could see. They probably knew that coming in contact with a defiled person would pass that defilement onto them but they saw it as a punishment for disobeying God. In fact a whole school of ancient Jewish teaching developed around the reason for these laws. At one point Jesus was condemned by the Pharisees for not demanding that his disciples wash their hands before eating bread and were astonished that Jesus did not wash His hands either. Matthew 15:2. Note that the Pharisees said nothing about hygiene but that they were breaking the Tradition of the Fathers, later the Talmud. You see the Tradition of the Fathers, man’s opinion, not Scripture, taught that during the night demons entered your body and then gravitated to your hands for after all it is with the hands that evil deeds are done. But demons hate water, so the Tradition of the Fathers taught, that before you eat and inadvertently re-ingest the demons (seriously, I’m not making this up) you would wash your hands and thus wash away the demons.
Maybe it seems cruel to separate these poor people from others. The word in Hebrew for put out is shalak which means to send away. But this is to send away for a purpose. It is used for a messenger being sent forth with his message. We learn later in Scripture that there were priests who were assigned to care for them. They would lay hands on them and pray for their healing. If they were healed they would have to go through a cleansing process. No one could touch a leper or those with a discharge of blood or those who came into contact with a dead body except the priest and only to pray over them and then put them through a cleansing process. They were not cruelly cast aside but were actually put into quarantine, thousands of years before the purpose of quarantine was known and understood. You see it was understood, at least is was supposed to be understood, that the person themselves were not unclean, but that something had entered them that made them unclean.
It is interesting that Jesus was not considered a priest but yet, he touched each individual before they were healed. He did not need to touch them but he did. This must have shocked the people who believed that the demon would come off the individual and onto Jesus or that the illness would pass onto Him. This is why some said Jesus was demon possessed, he touched the sick people who they thought were sick from demonic activity.
These sick people were said to be defiled or tame’ in the Hebrew. Some translations render this as simply unclean or ceremonially unclean. The word tame’ comes from a Sumerian word for pollute. I know pollute is sort of a modern English word but the idea was the same in ancient times. What tame’ means is to take something that is pure and good and add something that takes away or destroys that goodness and purity.
You see, when Jesus reached out and touched these people who were tame’ or unclean He was trying to show that what He created was good and pure, but the enemy brought something that was bad into that good and made it impure. I think pollute is the best word for this. When we think of pollution, we think of pure water or pure air that God created being poisoned by man. The command to not touch anything unclean or tame’ was a way to show that we must not let man’s sinful work which is found to not be in harmony with God to destroy the purity of God’s work.
An example would be churches that use the marketing techniques of the world to add to their numbers. They take surveys, seek to find the music people like, the programs they would like in order to entice them to attend church so they can hear the Gospel. I am not saying it is wrong, but often it is never prayed over, or even offered to God for His approval. If it builds the numbers then we assume it obviously ok with God so why pray over it. As the old saying goes: “It must be the will of God because it works so well for me.” Ok, maybe that does work and maybe God uses that but all too often many times the simple Gospel gets lost among all man’s works, it gets polluted by man. Sometimes we need discernment to find the tame’ the defilement and to put it out of the camp so it can be prayed over and purified.