Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

by Jacob Hancock

There’s a scene in the movie “The Aviator” where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, the businessman Howard Hughes, obsessively washes his hands in a public restroom. He scrubs his hands until the skin cracks and bleeds. Then he notices a spot on his shirt, and once more he scrubs until the spot is gone. Finally he nears the door and freezes. The camera moves back and forth between his hand, the doorknob, and his face as we see the overwhelming fear that Howard has with becoming unclean once more. He watches the door for a few seconds and slips out when another man enters the restroom, never touching the doorknob himself.

In Leviticus 11 through 20, we see a series of instructions that God has given to His people through Moses. While at first these laws may seem tedious, they actually give us an important look at what God is asking of His people during this time and, since scripture is still applicable in our lives today, what He is asking of us.

The first few chapters of this section of Leviticus may seem unconnected at first, but there is a clear throughline underlying all of them: the idea of cleanliness. Whether it be what animals are clean or unclean to the Jewish people (Leviticus 11), proper protocol after childbirth (Leviticus 12), or how to properly handle a case of leprosy (Leviticus 13 and 14), God is shown to care a lot about what is clean before Him. The heart of this idea is found in Leviticus 15:31 where God says: “Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst.” God desires to separate the people of Israel from the world around them, just as we are called to be set apart.

There is a small catch though: cleanliness is not freely obtained.

In Leviticus, the Israelites are expected to atone for their uncleanliness in various ways. Sacrificing doves and lamb for disobeying God’s laws, and in the most extreme cases, being outcast or killed for their sexual immorality. We see in Leviticus 16 that God demands atonement. Because we are sinful by nature, there must be a price paid to be close to God.

Howard Hughes, as previously mentioned, scrubs his hands so hard that his skin splits and blood drips into the sink. He quickly cleans it up and tries to return to the outside world but is stuck. He will be unclean again if he touches the doorknob, and that terrifies him. Similarly, the Israelites would become unclean again and would once more have to atone for their sins.

As Christians, we have a gift that Howard and the Israelites did not: the atoning blood of Christ. We are given the freedom to go back out into the world and live as examples of God’s grace. Jesus paid the price of our uncleanliness with His own blood, giving His life so that we don’t have to give ours. All that is requires in return is that you follow His word daily, living by His example, making the world a little cleaner in the process (see Rom. 12:1-2).

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