[From the archives. Enjoy. If you’re not repulsed, that is.]
Who says the Bible doesn’t have practical advice?
Designate a place outside the camp where you can go to relieve yourself. As part of your equipment have something to dig with, and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover up your excrement. (Deuteronomy 23:12-13.)
Sound advice. If you’re going to poop, don’t leave it in your tent. Don’t leave it in your neighbor’s tent. Don’t leave it in the space between your tent and your neighbor’s tent.
After all, why stink up the camp? And as you’ll see below the picture, there’s a spiritual aspect to this burying poop, too.
The Indecency of Bowel Movements?
The passage goes on to say:
For the Lord your God moves about in your camp to protect you and to deliver your enemies to you. Your camp must be holy, so that he will not see among you anything indecent and turn away from you. (Deuteronomy 23:14.)
I read that passage a few nights ago and wondered what connection there could be between our bodily excrement and holiness before God. After all, God called all his creation very good (Genesis 1:26-31), so I figure even our bowel movements must have been a good thing for God to create.
Then again, the connection of pooping and holiness isn’t the only connection I wonder about. Food is another area. God told the Israelites what they could and could not eat, calling permitted foods clean and forbidden ones unclean.
Then there is life under the New Covenant, where these food rules no longer apply and the spiritual connection with eating formerly forbidden food no longer exists. (Acts 10.) The New Testament writings don’t speak of bowel movements specifically, but with all that the New Testament does say about our freedom from Old Testament legal regulations it’s safe to say that the spiritual aspect of disposing with poop is gone too.
Why, then, should we bother learning the cleanliness regulations in Deuteronomy 23 at all?
Because it still provides an analogy for our spiritual lives now.
Burying Sin in a Hole
God used physical excrement to represent spiritual uncleanness to the Israelites. Having to step outside the camp provided a tangible and daily opportunity for the nation of Israel to remember that God dwelled with them, right there with them in their very camp, and that they were to live in a way that acknowledged his holy presence.
God is with us under the New Covenant too, and he lives not in our camps but in our very selves. (Ephesians 2:22.) The Bible encourages us to remember that we are cleansed of our sins (2 peter 1:9), meaning that unlike the Israelite camp which the Jews needed to keep holy we are now kept holy by God himself.
Yet God’s people still sin. (Romans 7.) The question then becomes: what are we to do with that sin?
- First, we should rejoice that all of our sins – past. present and future – have already been forgiven. (Colossians 2:13.)
- Second, we are to remember that God never condemns us for our sins. (Romans 8:1-2.)
- Third, we can follow the example of the Israelite camp. If you have sinned in whatever way, don’t keep that sin close to you where it will continue to tempt you. (James 1:14.) Don’t keep it somewhere you will come across it easily. Instead, put it aside and remove yourself as best you can from the temptations the led you to it, and move on by the power of the Holy Spirit.
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13.)
What about when we don’t resist temptation, though. The passage in Deuteronomy 23 gives good advice on what to do with that sin: leave it behind like the refuse it is.
And remember, the Spirit of Christ lives in us and we are eternally holy to our heavenly Father who never lets us go. (John 10:27-30.)