Unclean (Matthew 15:10-11)

Photo by Matthieu Joannon on Unsplash

Fifteen hundred years before Jesus, the Lord had said to Aaron, “You must  distinguish  between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, and you must teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them through Moses.” Then, after giving Moses a lengthy list of instructions on what was clean to eat and touch and what was not, the Lord said through Moses, “You must distinguish between the unclean and the clean, between living creatures that may be eaten and those that may not be eaten.”  In fact, Leviticus 10 and 11 (where the above quotes are found) use the Hebrew word for “unclean” almost three dozen times. Clearly, understanding what was ‘clean’ and what was ‘unclean’ is an important aspect of following God Most High.

It also sounds a lot like legalism, which Jesus denounces in His argument with the religious leadership. Helpfully however, Jesus tells the crowd how to rightly understand God’s original instructions to Moses: “Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’ ”” 

As He had done before with various aspects of the Jewish Law, Jesus takes what was formerly thought to be a strictly physical commandment and interprets it as a moral and spiritual commandment as well. Jesus is not saying that Moses was wrong, or that God was changing His mind as to what was physically fit for consumption and touch and what was not. Rather, Jesus is applying the terms ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ to the whole person – including mind and soul – and not just their physical body.  

As an ancient physical commandment given to a people who did not have refrigeration or a modern understanding of how disease and illness propagate, the commands to avoid ‘unclean’ aquatic and land creatures are helpful. Anyone who has suffered food poisoning knows that unclean meat has a high probability of making you sick. Very sick. Knowing how to avoid that is helpful. But the spiritual ideal of knowing the difference between holy and unholy is far more helpful. 

This is what the Father had said to Moses, “You must distinguish between the unclean and the clean.” Jesus knows that what the unclean meat does to you physically is but a shadow of what being unclean spiritually does to your mind and soul. It is one thing to be violently ill for a few days. If you are healthy, you can recover. It is quite another to be spiritually or mentally blinded, oppressed in spirit or in spiritual shackles on account of unclean thoughts, words and actions. No matter how physically well you otherwise are, you cannot recover from that until you are released and/or healed, and you cannot do that by yourself. Humankind has no remedy for sin-caused soul-sickness. Nothing we can do and no amount of time we can wait can wash that sin away from us. 

Only the blood of Jesus does that.

The man who thinks he can know the Word of God by mere intellectual study is greatly deceived. Spiritual truth is spiritually discerned.

Samuel Chadwick

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Is there anything ‘unclean’ in your life?