For the week of September 10, 2011 / 11 Elul 5771
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 21:10 - 25:19
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1-10
Living Right Doesn't Come Naturally
Because the LORD your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you and to give up your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you. (Devarim / Deuteronomy 23:14; ESV)
My eldest daughter has been working as a missionary in Haiti for two years. I find her stories of life there overwhelming. Haiti is not like most places on earth. Its level of dysfunction is hard to believe at times. In fact, she has told us that many Haitians don't know the difference between drinking water and waste water. If your response to that fact is "How can that be?" then you possess a misconception about how it is our society came to grasp this most fundamental principle of hygiene.
Our presuppositions are based on the traditions of past generations. These traditions are so ingrained we don't realize that they are learned. We think that they are innately part of us just like our ability to breathe. But ways of living are not naturally acquired. Our understanding of the difference between drinking and waste water did not arise from our genes but from other people. Even though we most likely didn't learn this in school, it is possible that when we were very young, we may have attempted to drink from a puddle or other unclean source only to be sternly prevented by an elder who had learned this same thing from an elder of his and so on going back centuries.
The Torah's directive to store human waste away from the community was a necessary lesson to be learned to ensure health. The verse we read suggests that there was more than just physical health at stake. Like so many of God's directives it has a spiritual foundation and a physical benefit. Tolerating indecency in the community first and foremost threatens the people's relationship with God, which in turn negatively affects our health.
It might be difficult for us to imagine how a society can neglect so foundational and simple a concept as keeping drinking and waste water separate, but we forget how for centuries in Europe people unnecessarily died due to ignorance about simple hygiene. Simple perhaps, but not natural. Our natural inclination is to do our own thing in our own way to our peril. Without careful adherence to God's revelation as laid out in the Scriptures, we naturally find ourselves on the road to destruction. It doesn't matter if we claim to love God or not. No matter how spiritual you think you are, drinking waste water may very well kill you. No matter how much you say you love God, ignoring his directives will destroy you. This applies to moral issues as much as it does hygiene. We may not be drinking waste water, but might we be neglecting others of God's directives?
Those of us who live in countries that emerged from strong biblical roots need to take note of the abundant blessings we take for granted. So much of what is truly good is due to rightly applying the principles found in God's Word. It is easy to bemoan how society is losing touch with these ancient principles while missing how we ourselves may be failing in the same way regarding our personal, family, and congregational lives. Having faith or being good hearted or sincere doesn't automatically separate waste water from drinking water. The only way to live the kind of good and blessed lives God desires for us is by our paying close attention to his instructions and applying them accordingly.
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