We are working our way through a biblical home, and as we come to the bathroom the universal response of us all is perhaps less than enthusiastic. And all God’s people said, “Oh, dear.” There are reasons for this response and those reasons are at the center of this message.
Thou shalt have a place also without the camp, whither thou shalt go forth abroad: And thou shalt have a paddle upon thy weapon; and it shall be, when thou wilt ease thyself abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee: For the LORD thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp, to deliver thee, and to give up thine enemies before thee; therefore shall thy camp be holy: that he see no unclean thing in thee, and turn away from thee (Deut. 23:12-14).
The holiness of God extends to everything. We are not to understand the holiness of God as something that is merely “spiritual.” Neither should we understand it as an Old Covenant “ceremonial” thing. The holiness of God is wholistic in nature and it encompasses all that God’s people are and all that they do. Notice in our text that God could be offended because of a failure to obey Him in the area of sewage disposal. The army could be defeated in battle because of their latrine policies. Whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God. We are fond of saying that the Lordship of Christ extends into everything. Here is where we test our mettle.
The bathroom is a room set aside primarily for cleansing. The reason for this is there is always some form of dirt collecting on us or in us that must be removed. Further, removing it is a constant and perpetual task, undertaken on a daily basis. That is what the three “lavers” in the bathroom are dedicated to—whether you are brushing teeth, taking a shower, or using the toilet.
Incidentally, the bathroom is a room for cleansing. As such, it is a good measure of the understanding in a household concerning the importance of cleanliness overall. It could be argued that the bathroom should be the cleanest room in the house. When you are not sure about a restaurant, the place to check is one of their bathrooms.
THREE LAVERS IN PRIVATE
As we approach God in worship, one of the first things we do is confess our sins. We are making ourselves presentable before we present ourselves before Him. In the bathroom we are performing an analogous service for our neighbor, whom we must love as we love ourselves. The motivation for this must not be vanity, but rather love. My life for yours.
The privacy we seek out for these duties is a universal instinct, and the reason for it is not hard to find. We need the protections of clothes, doors, or social conventions as we acknowledge we are not in Eden. Much of this goes back to shame—not shame over sin, but shame over our fallenness. We are not ashamed of having bodies, but of having fallen bodies. The soil needs more preparation now, and weeds afflict us. We are preparing to love others, and we cannot do a thing at the same time we are preparing to do it.
CLEANLINESS IS NEXT TO GODLINESS
It is not the same thing as godliness, but it is next to godliness. As we consider this, we have to take care to avoid two problems. The first is a reductionist approach that assumes that God taught Israel hygiene by means of a trick—by sneaking modern medical truths into the sugar pill of useless ceremonies. The other error separates the “medical” from the spiritual or ceremonial, and sees many of these biblical requirements as “just” sacramental. After all, the blood on Aaron’s ear lobe didn’t ward off any virus.
Soap—in the red heifer sacrifice, we have an interesting set up. The heifer was burnt completely, along with cedar wood (Num. 19:6). We have resulting from this sacrfice the two essential ingrediants of soap, which would be tallow and wood ash. The remains of the sacrifice were to be used by the Israelites in the waters of cleansing, as they prepared for worship (Num. 19:9). There are other aspects of this ritual that might be called “purely” ceremonial, but our goal should be to keep things together.
Disease—God told the people of Israel that obedience to all His commandments and statutes would result in them having none of the diseases of Egypt (Ex. 15:26). Pagan societies are filthy and consequently disease-ridden. This is an important means of loving our neighbor.
Manners—brushing teeth, combing hair, and washing your body are all forms of giving to others. Few things are more difficult than trying to deal charitably with someone who stinks. Some forms of this are constant in every godly society, and some forms vary according to fashion. Parting hair on the side or in the middle is a simple matter of custom. But trying to cultivate that rebellion-lite look is not just a matter of custom.
The polite averting of the gaze, the welcoming of the closed bathroom door, are fundamental Christian duties. But this can only be done safely if we are take care to guard our imagination. Social taboos can enable us to give to one another, as in this case. But when idolatrously wielded, they make us fall into rationalistic folly.
It has to be said with great reverence and care, but in the incarnation of Jesus Christ we have the eternal Word of God taking on flesh—along with all the consequences of this. We reject docetism; Jesus had air in His lungs, food in His stomach, and dirt on His hands.