Then the Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: ‘No one shall defile himself for a dead person among his people, except for his relatives who are nearest to him,
(We call this in Hebrew, “ha krovim”.)
…his mother and his father and his son and his daughter and his brother, also for his virgin sister, who is near to him because she has had no husband; for her he may defile himself. He shall not defile himself as a relative by marriage among his people, and so profane himself. (Leviticus 21:1-4)
The theme of Leviticus 21 is, "The Priests of the Lord and the Corpses, the Living and the Dead". This is Levitical typology at its best. Carl Bach, the German theologian, said in Latin, “Novum Testamentum Envetera Latet”—"the New is in the Old concealed, and the Old is in the New revealed". This became almost a maxim among theologians. (Of course, the Plymouth Brethren had been saying the same thing for 30 years before Carl Bach did, only they did not say it in Latin, so it was not academically accepted.) Paul says we “established the Torah”, that this is fulfilled in Christ. It points to Jesus; it is fulfilled in Him. The question is, what does it mean for us?
The priests could not handle a corpse. They could not touch a dead body, what we call in Hebrew a “gupha”—literally “a corpse”. A living body in Hebrew is called a “guph”. One would say in reference to the Body of Christ, “ha guph ha Moshiach”. But a dead body is called “gupha”. The cohen (the priest) could not touch one. If a priest of the Lord came into contact with a dead body, he would be ritually defiled. He would be ritually unclean and unfit for service in the house of the Lord. He could not bring sacrifices to the temple, nor intercede on behalf of others. He could minister neither in God's house nor among God's people if he had come into contact with a corpse.
The Issue of Unsaved Loved Ones
Possibly the people from whom I get the most mail are people who have a spouse or children who are unsaved. The majority is from women with unsaved husbands, although it is sometimes men with unsaved wives and backslidden or unsaved children. These things cause people more grief than perhaps anything else. We can face our own life; we can even, as a believer, because of our faith in Jesus, face our own death. But when our children, when our wife, when our husband, when our parents do not have the assurance of salvation, and when as a result we cannot communicate with those who are closest to us beyond a certain level, it causes a lot of anguish and a lot of frustration.
I do not know a single Christian with an unsaved husband or an unsaved wife who is happily married—not even one. Usually, if the husband is a believer, the wife will get saved—not always, but usually; water will take the shape of its container. But when the boots are on the other feet, it is not so easy. There are women who agonize through years and decades of marriage to men who are not believers, trying to give their children a Christian influence in their upbringing while their husbands are going against them.
Then there are children. When they are little, it is one thing, but when they get older, it is something else. We have a sermon which addresses the difficult issue of the deaths of unsaved loved ones called "The Death of Absalom".
I do not know one believer who is happily married to an unbelieving husband or an unbelieving wife. Even if, humanly speaking, the unbelieving husband is a “good guy”, a good provider, a good lover, a nice person, etc. Even if the unbelieving woman is a good wife in the human sense of the word. Even then, I do not know of a single marriage that is happy when a believer is married to an unbeliever. This is because it is a theological impossibility.
Something else that taunts us as believers is having parents or children who are not saved. Something that certainly taunts me is that my father died, as far as I know, unsaved. My mother is getting older and her health is not the best. My mother is Catholic; stubbornly Catholic. She is steeped in psychological bondage to a false Christianity. She trusts in the statue of Mary for her salvation instead of in the Living God. I am afraid that she is going to die without knowing the Lord; yet I cannot talk to that woman for five minutes about anything to do with my beliefs because it will simply disintegrate. When our parents begin getting older and they are not saved, or perhaps when our kids are older and they are not saved, and they are out doing this and that, and we do not even want to know what it is they are doing—these are the real issues of life for a believer. It is not the hype, it is not the nonsense, it is not all the froth, these are the real issues. In our sermon “The Death of Absalom”, we deal with what happens when these people die, but here we are looking at what happens when they live, in a manner of speaking.
Who are the living, who are the dead, what is the temple, and who are the priests? If the Levitical priests—or the cohenim—came into contact with a dead person's body, they were ritually defiled; they were unfit for service in God's house. What does the Bible say about this issue, and what kind of provision does God make for it?
What is the Temple? Who are the Priests? Who are the Dead?
you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5)
A “spiritual house” is expressed as “oikos” in Greek. In multiple places, the New Testament says that the Church is the temple; we are the living stones. But it also tells us that we are the priests. The Old Testament Levites were called apart from the other people; they are Old Testament figures of believers. When Malachi says "He shall purify the priests of Levi", (Mal 3:3) he was making a prophecy about what the Messiah would do, as quoted by Handel in the oratory Messiah. We are the priests; these Old Testament priests are pictures of believers, the ones who would become pure. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”. (Psalm 51:10) So the priests are saved Christians and the temple is the Church. It may or may not include a building, but it is certainly a living organism. The Church, the fellowship, the congregation is the temple. That leaves us one more question, “Who are the dead?”
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. (John 5:24)
When we see the words “truly, truly”, that is a Semitic superlative. It tells us that the original language was not Greek. It was either Hebrew or, more likely, Aramaic. They do not say “very, very” for emphasis; instead, they repeat the adjective in Semitic languages like Hebrew. If I am speaking to my wife (we usually speak Hebrew) and it is cold out, when I came in she would ask, "Is it cold out?", and in reply I would not say “very cold”, I would say “kar kar”, or “cold cold”. I was speaking to our office in Australia recently and one thing mentioned was their sweltering heat and humidity in Melbourne. I said, "Is it warm?" They replied, "Very warm." But if my wife asks me, "How is the weather in Australia?" I would say in answer “hom hom”. We say things twice for emphasis. When we see "truly, truly" or "verily, verily", it is emphatic—it is a superlative. Jesus is really driving a point. And the point is this: if we believe in Him, we have eternal life. We do not come into judgment, but we have passed from death to life.
In God's economy, from His eternal and divine perspective, real death is “second death”. And, by the same token, real birth is “second birth”. The only way to escape second death is to have second birth. Only the things which will exist in eternity are of ultimate significance; biological birth and biological death are, in a sense, perfunctory. Real birth is second birth, and real death is seconddeath. People who are not born again, who have not been saved, are zombies; they are the living dead. If somebody is here today, for instance, who is not born again, that person is dead as far as God is concerned. Upon repentance and profession of faith in Jesus, someone who is dead comes to life.
But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:22)
I actually knew of a misguided group of Christians who, on this basis, came up with the idea that Christians should not go to funerals. That was their interpretation of the verse, but that is not what it means. If we understand the Jewish background of the text, it is obviously talking about something called the “yerusha”—“inheritance”, particularly the right of the oldest son to a double portion of the family inheritance, but commensurate with the double portion would be an obligation to remain with his parents until they died. So what Jesus is really saying is, "Do not let financial considerations be an obstacle that prevents you from following Me." The issue was money, not funerals.
Corpses as Figures of the Unsaved
“Let the dead bury the dead.” Unsaved people are dead. Ephesians 2:1 says, "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins." We used to be dead. Corpses are figures of unsaved people. The corpses of the Old Testament, particularly of the Torah, are figures of unsaved people in the same way that the Levites are figures of Christians. And, of course, the temple is a shadow of the Church. When someone handles a corpse they become defiled, ritually impure, unfit for service in God's house. Unsaved people defile us. They render us somehow contaminated and unfit for service in God's house. If someone handles a corpse, they have a problem, and the problem is that they get used to it.
I recall when in university (I was in my late teens), I walked into the Gross Anatomy Lab. I had never previously been in one. I had seen dead bodies before, but never cadavers that were going to be dissected. I came in, and over to my right was a cadaver; but on a shelf on my left there were a variety of specimens of human embryos who had died in gestation. These were preserved in canisters of formalin, because the professors wanted the students to see things that they might not otherwise see. These included Siamese twins who had died in gestation, or antenatal. There were encefalopagas—Siamese twins joined at the head with an integrated nervous system. There were thoracothlagas—Siamese twins joined at the chest, or in other words thoracically conjoined. There was even a Cyclops—a corpse with one eye in the middle of its forehead. These all died in gestation. These were human embryos. I had never seen anything like this before; this was not a Spielberg movie (there were no Spielberg movies then), this was real. I looked at this and wondered what I had walked into. But talk to people in the funeral industry, or the medical profession, or the emergency services. Talk to people in the police or the fire brigade, people who deal with dead bodies all the time, see dead people, pull dead people out of automobile wrecks and burning houses and things like this. Talk to people who work with the dead. They will tell you that the initial shock quickly wears off.
I remember the first time I saw a murdered baby—I could not believe it. I remember the first time I tried to revive a dead person. But after a while one begins to feel like a baker handling dough; they get used to it. Well, it is the same thing spiritually. We live with unsaved people, we work with unsaved people, and we forget what we are dealing with. We have become accustomed to handling the dead. That person at the checkout counter at the supermarket is a dead person. That person at the desk opposite me in the office where I work, that is a dead person. My unsaved mother and my unsaved brother are dead people. But we get used to it; we forget that they are dead. We know it, but it gets to a point where it does not really register with us anymore, let alone bother us. But they are dead nonetheless, and they do defile.
In the ancient Near East, the Levites had to bring sacrifices on behalf of the people. It involved handling food that would be eaten and so on. Of course, because there were communicable diseases, a Levite would be in a position to be an agent of infection since he is in contact with everybody. In the Middle East, most of the year is quite hot. When a body dies, the lividity factor will set in very quickly, but then so will rigor mortis, or rapid decay. A corpse is ripe with infectious bacteria. Do not handle it! Bury it quickly! All these oblations and washing rituals through which the Levites had to undergo contain a spiritual meaning, but also a practical meaning. As a result of those rituals, the Jews had less communicable disease than other civilizations. Because of the absence of refrigeration, pork products and shellfish products are both quite dangerous in that climate. Among the Jews, it was not a problem. They would have had far less botulism and far less trichinosis than other civilizations because of the restrictions in Levitical law against eating those things. So, too, any agent of infection was strongly regulated.
“Tsaraat”—leprosy was regulated by the Levites; lepers had to be quarantined, put in isolation outside the camp. Thus Israel did not have these kinds of plagues. Remember, "If you keep My commandments, you will not have these diseases as the Egyptians"? (Deut 7:15) There is a spiritual meaning in all this, but there is a practical meaning as well.
Blood, seminal emissions, menstrual blood, urine, and most particularly, any kind of seepage from a wound, a cut or a laceration were all taboo. These things took place long before the advent of microbiology, but of course God knew about bacteria. There is a spiritual meaning in this, but there is also a practical meaning. So we see that they had to get rid of corpses without the priests coming into contact with them. A Levite who at some point has handled a corpse and is later handling the sacrifices, the food and coming into contact with people, could be spreading Heaven knows what because a corpse defiles; it cannot help but defile—it is dead.
How do we look at this? Bad company corrupts good morals. Our righteousness is the righteousness of Jesus; it is imputed, for we have no righteousness of our own. There is no such thing as a “good person” by God's standards. Nobody is good in and of themselves, not even those who believe. It is the righteousness of Jesus that makes the difference. Bad company corrupts good morals. With that in mind, what should our attitude and disposition toward the dead be?
Our Attitude and Disposition Toward the Dead
We have all had instruction in humility from the Lord, including me. I had not been married long and I was with my new wife in Jerusalem. We were in Bethany at the traditional site of Lazarus' tomb; there is actually a burial cave there. (They do not know for certain whether it is the one Lazarus is buried in, but they say it is, because as a result they can build a church on it and attract people to make money or whatever.) So I went down there with a little torch, by which light I read the story of Lazarus from John 11. The Lord showed something to me, and even then I knew it was the Holy Spirit. I thought this insight was quite enlightening—very illuminating. But several years later, I found that God had shown George Whitfield the same thing three hundred yearsearlier. I realized then that I was not an “enlightened one”, that I was not so unique.
Jesus says four things when He calls Lazarus from the tomb.
The first thing He says is, "Where have you laid him?" (John 11:34) In other words, where is the dead man?
The second thing Jesus says is, "Remove the stone." (John 11:39)
The third thing Jesus says is, "Lazarus, come forth!" (John 11:43)
The fourth thing he says is, "Unbind him, and let him go." (John 11:44)
"Where have you laid him?" Where are the dead? This is the perfect picture of evangelism.
(I began teaching the Bible in Israel coincidentally, because there was nobody else to do it. My own interest was always in the area of evangelism and witnessing; I had never thought of myself as a Bible teacher. Other people said I had the gift of teaching, but personally I had always denied it. Although now I concentrate more on Bible teaching, my first interest was and still remains evangelism. If the Lord ever let me do it, I would give up Bible teaching in favor of fully concentrating my efforts on evangelism. However, Jesus said to make disciples, not converts. What kind of a church are you going to bring people into? A zoo? There is a dearth of Bible teaching; hence, I cannot see the point in making converts. Jesus never said to make converts; He said to make disciples. (Math 28:19-20) You cannot separate discipleship from evangelism. Hence, the Lord has led me to concentrate more on Bible teaching even though it was not something I wanted to do.)
"Remove the stone." One of the things I learned while doing evangelism was I could witness, witness, and witness some more; knock on door after door; give out tract after tract. I used to give out thousands of tracts in New York. I could preach and preach, give my testimony, testify, testify, testify and witness, witness, witness. But until they heard the voice of Jesus instead of only my voice, they would not get saved. When we witness, when we evangelize, when we testify and give our testimonies, we share our faith. What we are thereby doing is rolling away the stone, making it possible for the dead to hear the voice of Jesus Christ.
Then Jesus says, "Lazarus, come forth." Some of the old Pentecostal preachers used to say He had to specify “Lazarus”, otherwise everyone else in the tomb would have gotten up as well. Maybe they are right, I do not know. Be that as it may, only the Son of Man can call that which is dead to life; only Jesus can say it effectively.
But then He goes back and talks again to the people, the living. "Unbind him, and let him go." Jesus never said to make converts. When people come out of the tomb, when people get saved, they are bound. They are bound emotionally, they are bound spiritually, and they are bound mentally—they need discipleship, they need counseling, they need a lot of things. The first thing a stinking corpse in the Middle East needs is a bath—baptism.
" Unbind him, and let him go." That is discipleship. That is our disposition toward the dead. We roll away the stone, Jesus calls them to life, and we are called to unbind them. But they are dead. The Jews had a tradition that the Shekinah would hover over the corpse of “tsadik”—“a righteous man”, for three days after his death, but by the fourth day he would be absolutely kaput. We read in John 11:39, "Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days". There is a reason it says four days: four days meant “finito”—that is it, now he is really gone. They did not attribute any sanctimonious attributes to the corpse anymore. It was just foul.
"IN" the World But Not "OF" the World
What does this mean, “Do not handle the dead'? Does it mean we should have no connections and no dealings with unsaved people whatsoever? No, that is not what it means.
I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. (1 Cor 5:9-10)
We have to understand the cultural context of Corinth. We are talking about real immorality. We are talking about idolatry, superstition, cult prostitution, and bisexuality. They had the gladiators of Rome who came to Corinth to provide violence as entertainment. Paul continues to say that he did not mean to dissociate completely from the covetous, the swindlers or the idolaters, because to accomplish that we would have to go out of the world altogether.
But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. (1 Cor 5:11)
It does not mean that we do not or should not have any contact with unsaved people. We are called to be “in the world but not of it”. Paul says, "if that was the case, you would have to go out of the world". We are not called to go out of the world; we are called to be in the world, but not of it.
Some churches confuse holiness with a soft form of legalism called Nomianism. The Nomianist mentality asserts, “Christians do not go to the movies, Christians do not do this, Christians do not do that…” It is actually more related to Catholicism than it is to biblical Christianity. We are not called to be out of the world but to be a witness in it. "Where have you laid him?" We have to go to where the unsaved people are.
Some of this had to do with embalming. Embalming practices were borrowed from the Egyptians and are also called mummification. We are told that the Jews embalmed the bodies of the patriarchs. The aim of embalming is to try to keep something looking alive when it is dead; it has to do with intimate contact.
Bound to the Right Thing
Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God…(2 Cor 6:14-16a)
“Do not be bound together”. The word here for 'bound' is “enterozugeo” in Greek, meaning “yoked” like oxen were yoked. A yoke was a big, heavy oak frame through which oxen had to put their heads. Oxen were the strongest animals they had in the ancient Near East and were always sold in pairs. Remember the Parable of the Wedding Feast and the wedding invitation? (Luke 14:16-240 One guest gave the excuse, "I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out." (Luke 14:19) This was used as an excuse because one must be sure that one's oxen can work in harmony; they had to be well matched on the basis of strength, sex, age, breed, and things like that. It was not good enough to simply have any two oxen. A young ox would be very enthusiastic, but it would wear itself out; it would expend its energy too quickly. An older ox would actually be better; it would last longer because it would have learned to pace itself and would be able to keep going longer. Sometimes ill-matching oxen would just go around in circles when you have one trying to push ahead and one trying to slow down—they are not working in harmony. An old ox paired with a young one was a big problem. Wrong breeds will not work together. "I had to try them," the guy said to excuse himself from the wedding feast, in other words to "prove them". He had to be sure they could work together. This is part of what is meant when it is said, “Let the elders be tested'. (1 Tim 3:10) It means to be sure they can work with the other elders. There is nothing worse than when you have three or four elders, one of whom is always out to lunch.
Be not bound to unbelievers. It is not enough to say, “Well, now that my boyfriend got saved, so we can get married.” The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church. How can someone be in submission to a baby? Give the guy a break. That guy has to become God's covering, God's protection, the symbol of God's loving protection and God's authority in her life. How can he be such when he is just newly saved and she knows more than he does? Let him be tested. It is not enough just to say, "He is a Christian", they have to be properly tested.
There are other obvious examples, such as Christians becoming legally yoked—financially bound to unbelieving business partners. One wants to go this way, the other wants to go that way. What are we going to tell our unbelieving business partner who goes down to the pub and drinks too much? “Oh, I prayed about it and I think we should do this.” One wants to go that way, one wants to go this way, and we are yoked; we cannot get our neck out of it. In this situation we become legally and financially bound to an unbeliever.
Marriage is an obvious example. The Bible does make provision for those who are saved after being married, which is something we will look at, but it makes no provision for marrying an unbeliever, except to say, “do not do it”. When we become yoked, we cannot get our neck out of it; these things defile. They want to pull one way; we want to go the other; they want to go at this pace, we want to go at a different pace; we want to speed up, they hold us back; they want to drag us into something, we want to say, “Wait a minute”. A corpse will always defile.
As Applied to Church Relations
Now when the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the people of the exile were building a temple to the Lord God of Israel, they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ households, and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we, like you, seek your God; and we have been sacrificing to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us up here.” (Ea 4:1-2)
Notice that they are involved in Paganism and in the worship of the true God simultaneously. “Let us build with you”.
In a recent edition of the Alpha Times we read: "Papal preacher gives Alpha follow-up talks". Father Catelamessa is speaking in the inset with Nicky Gumbel. Father Catelamessa, the preacher to the papal household in the Vatican, has accepted an invitation from the Alpha office to give a series of seven talks on video. He is a brother in Christ, he worships God, he believes in Jesus, then he kneels down before a statue and prays to the dead. “Let us build with you”. What does the temple of God have to do with idols? What do the living have to do with the dead? We have mentioned becoming romantically and emotionally involved with unsaved people, and we have mentioned becoming financially and legally involved with unsaved people; now we see churches getting involved with the false religious system of the world. The dead defile; they can do nothing less.
God does make a certain provision in some cases, but only in those cases. Those provisions do not include an unsaved business partner. What, we have an unbelieving boyfriend? Our girlfriend is not a committed Christian? That is not our boyfriend, that is not our girlfriend, that is not a lover, that is not a fiancé—that is a stiff. What are we, a Christian or a necrophiliac?
Do we know that physical contact in any kind of romantic setting begins to engender emotional bonds? Even kissing, fondling, caressing—those things are designed by God to cement a marriage. Do not let that dead man kiss you! Do not caress that cadaver! Do not fondle that corpse! If someone wants to get married, marry in the Lord, all well and good, but they are not going to find Prince Charming in a cemetery; they are not going to find Cinderella in a morgue.
There was a terrible tragedy in my family when I was about 13 years old. I had a cousin, age 19 going on 20, who was exceptionally attractive. She was like a cover girl, like a model, but not just a model, a top model—a supermodel they would call it now. She was engaged to marry a very wealthy person. Her family is actually quite well off too, but she was going to marry some guy who was in the bucks. (I am not suggesting that she was marrying him for his money, or that he was marrying her for her looks, but unsaved people being what they are, I imagine they were factors in the equation.) On Christmas Eve, my cousin was tragically killed in an automobile accident in Delaware. I went down there to the funeral. My mother and her family were very upset; relatives came from Canada and from Scotland. It was terrible. There was my cousin in a casket, in a beautiful gown, with a beautiful coiffeur, delightfully made up as beautiful as ever. She looked like Sleeping Beauty. Only my cousin, Eileen, was not sleeping. She was dead. Dead is dead. They are either in Christ or they are dead.
We will not find a husband in a cemetery. We will not find a bride in a morgue. We will not find them in a pub, and we will not find them in a discotheque. We will not find them in a nightclub. Inthe world, but not of it. When the Lord so leads, I have no problem with the right person going to a discotheque or a nightclub for the right reason under the right circumstances. I recall coming to London with my new bride in the early 1980's during the punk movement. We handed out tracts to the punk kids who were like the hippies of my own youth who were looking for a sense of direction for their lives. They were disenfranchised from the tremendous unemployment among the youth. All over Britain there were signs, “Labor is not working” and '”he Winter of Discontent” and all that. Against that whole background, if you remember it, these kids were going crazy. I recall going to the Camden Palace with my wife and we were witnesses to these young people.
The dead defile. It just does not work. If we are a Christian and we have a business, we want God to run that business. If our church is Bible-believing and evangelical, and then we get in bed with a liberal Protestant church or a Roman church, it just does not work. The living cannot cohabitate with the dead in that sense.
Marriage? There are four kinds of love that operate in a marriage: “Philio”, “eros”, “storga”, and “agape”. Storga love is familiar love, family love - unsaved people are capable of that. Philio love is brotherly love; we get along, we both like tennis, we both like Mozart, whatever. It is based on some common denominator for human attraction. Erotic love is actually, “I love me, I want you”. Unsaved people are capable of these. But the fourth kind of love is agape. There is only one place in the Bible, the New Testament, where an unsaved person was capable of agape. That was in the case of a person so morally depraved that they unconditionally loved evil. Only a saved Christian can truly agape with the love of God. Philio love fails because it is human. Erotic love certainly fails; nobody stays young and good-looking forever, not even me. Even family love can fail. Only agape's love never fails. We cannot build a marriage on anything other than God's love. Not only that, but unless we have agape, we really cannot have good philio, good eros, or good storga. We have a cheapened, degraded level of storga, of eros and of philio.
I did not grow up Christian. In fact, I did not know what a saved Christian was as I was growing up. Everybody I knew was Catholic, Jewish, or nominally Protestant. I did not know anything other. Like most people who are unsaved, I was rather promiscuous during my teenage years. I did all the things that unsaved people do. Jesus saved me from it, but I will tell you this: even if you want to talk about good romance, God has the best. He designed sex. We cannot have good sex outside of His plan; how can we share our bed and intimacy and that kind of vulnerability with somebody who does not have the same eternal destiny and purpose for his or her life as we do? We cannot even sexually communicate beyond a certain level with an unsaved person. I repeat that I do not know a single Christian who is married to an unbelieving partner who is happily married—not even one. I know more than I can count who are unhappily married, but not one who is happy.
The Corpses We Must Handle
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: ‘No one shall defile himself for a dead person among his people, except for his relatives who are nearest to him, his mother and his father and his son and his daughter and his brother, (Lev 21:1-2)
But God makes the provision that for one’s nearest relative they may defile their self. In such cases, through no fault or choice of our own, we are “enterozugeo”—we are “yoked”. Through no choice or fault of our own, there are corpses we must handle. There are dead people we must be intimately involved with: unsaved parents, unsaved siblings, unsaved children, unsaved spouse; there are corpses we must handle. God knows that, and His Word makes a provision for it.
One - it is not something you chose. It is God intervening to help a victim. If you choose it, if you put your neck in that yoke, you must be crazy. But if your neck is already in the yoke, that is when God intervenes. 'For the nearest relative, he may defile himself'. For most of us, with the exceptions of little children, the most difficult people to witness to and to share our faith with are unsaved relatives; close relations who knew you before you were a Christian. They are the most difficult. Some other person will take you for what you are, but relatives who knew you before you were saved will always take you for what you were. They know us, and they can get to us. Unsaved relatives who knew us before we were Christians know just what buttons to push. And the devil knows that they know just what buttons to push. They are arrows in his quiver. By nature they defile, and they can get to us. You know that verse in Proverbs, which states, "Dripping water is like a contentious woman." Drip, drip, drip, drip. . ..
I have a mother in Florida; I know that in God's infinite wisdom and providence, the good Lord had her in mind when he inspired that to be put into Proverbs. ... Drip, drip, drip, drip.
Unsaved people who are relatives can cuss like nobody else. They can get us into the flesh, they can get us going . . . drip, drip, drip . . . My mother often says something sarcastically, something like "There's your born-again. I saw your Benny Hinn on TV; look at what he was doing. There's your born-again." Of course, this triggers off my old nature, and after the first few drips, I'm all right. Either I get out of there or I stay there, because after awhile, I begin responding to the drips. "Hey, Mom, what do you call an Irishman with 12 kids he does not have to support?" "I do not know." "Monsignor. Heh, heh, heh."
What I'm saying may be valid and true, but it does not do any good in terms of evangelistic dialogue. It is not very good for my witness or my testimony. It is normally better to pray that the Lord will send some other Christian than you to witness to them. Apart from little children, you get to a point with these relatives where you have told them everything you can tell them; now, it is what you say with your life that counts. Pray for them and let them see your life, but let others witness to them. They have too much ammunition to use on you. And the devil knows it.
These are the corpses that defile. They drag us down. My mother can get to me; unsaved parents are a big problem. And they are dead.
Turn with me, please, to the book of Numbers chapter 5 verses 1-3:"And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 'Command the sons of Israel that they send away from the camp every leper, and everyone having a discharge, and everyone who is unclean because of a dead person.'" Put them out of the camp.
On the Cleansing of the Lepers tape, we explain the typology of sin represented by leprosy. If you want those tapes, you can hear six and one-half hours on the subject of sin by one of the world's foremost experts.
'Put them out'; everyone having a discharge, again, an agent of communication of infectious disease, and everyone who is unclean because of a dead person. You walk out of the church, promptly light a cigarette and hop in the car with your unsaved boyfriend; these diseases spread. You get one young person in the church doing it, and then you'll have another one doing it, and another, and another. No, no, no. The leaders draw the line. 'Sorry, you're outside the camp.' It spreads.
But what about the corpses we have to have? Look at 1 Corinthians chapter 7 verses 13 to 16: "And a women who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, let her not send her husband away. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife. And the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband. For otherwise, your children are unclean. But now they are holy. But if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave. The brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace." Notice the word 'peace' in verse 13. "For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? How do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?" Having an unsaved husband or an unsaved wife can rob you of your peace, but not of your shalom. The word 'peace' here is shalom; it is not just peace in the Greek sense of tranquility, of peacefulness, or an absence of conflict. It is peace in the Hebrew sense of shalom, fullness, totality, etc. 'My peace I give you, not peace that the world gives you.' This does not mean an absence of conflict, although it will openly include that with the return of Jesus. This means His peace; His fulfillment, His completion. We have this on other tapes. We explain how the word 'shalom' comes from the Hebrew infinitive, l'shalem, to fill and fulfill. We have shalom because the Messiah came to l'shalem. We have peace because He came to fulfill the law, to pay the price for our sin, and to fill us with His Sprit. 'My peace I give you'; you can be enduring the biggest conflict of your life and have shalom all the way through it. Conversely, there can be times when no conflict surrounds you, yet you lack shalom. Ultimately, the shalom Jesus gives will include peace in the Greek sense; the nations will 'beat their spears into pruning hooks', and the millennium will openly include that. However, for now our peace does not necessarily include that lack of outward conflict. Your life may outwardly be with or without conflict, but you can have shalomregardless of circumstance.
However, unsaved people, unsaved relatives we are yoked to, and particularly unsaved spouses - people with whom we are martially intimate - can rob us of our peace. They do rob us of our peace. They defile. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit; so as you sleep with her or you sleep with him, God's temple is being defiled. But God does make a provision. These unbelievers are sanctified to a degree through the faith of the believer. Although they defile, they do not abominate. Although they defile, they do not desecrate. God does make a provision for it. Otherwise, His temple would be desecrated, and your children would be the same as the children of the unsaved. God has no grandchildren, only children.
The sanctification process, in this case, works as follows: That unbelieving child will be sanctified through your faith, to a degree, up to the point when they are old enough to make their own decision. Then, either they will become a believer or they will break the yoke and leave. So it is, too, with the unbelieving husband or wife. They are sanctified, to some degree, until some point where they either get saved or break the yoke and leave. Therefore, do not let it rob you of your peace.
Now, they do still defile, but they do not desecrate. That is, of course, if you're living your life in accordance with God's teachings, and you are already married to that person. (If, however, you're going to put your neck in the yoke, well, good luck; you're sure going to need it.) Talk to somebody who is married to an unbeliever; there is a kind of sanctification in their situation that is similar to what happens with children. At a certain point, these people will either get saved or they will leave. Do not be robbed of your peace. Will they defile you? Yes. Will they desecrate God's temple? No.
Turn with me, please, to the book of Numbers chapter 9 verse 6. "But there were some men who were unclean because of the dead person. So they could not observe Passover on that day. So they came before Moses and Aaron on that day, and those men said to them, 'Though we are unclean because of the dead person, why are we restrained from presenting the offering of the Lord at its appointed time among the sons of Israel?' Moses therefore said to them, 'wait and I will listen to what the Lord will command concerning you.' Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 'Speak to the sons of Israel saying, "if anyone among you or of your generation becomes unclean because of a dead person or is on a distant journey, he may, however, observe the Passover to the Lord."'" Again, we established the Torah. These things are fulfilled in Christ. What is our Passover? The Lord; we commemorate this in partaking of the Lord's Supper. I Corinthians 5; I Corinthians 11; the Lord's Supper is our Passover. We have a tape called "The Last Supper" which explains it better. But when you read I Corinthians 5 and I Corinthians 11, it becomes obvious.
When you want to come to the Lord's pesach, the Lord's table, the Lord's Passover, and you have been in contact with a dead person, you feel unclean. And again, the devil will always take advantage of weakness. Your unsaved husband picks an argument with you before you come to church, your unsaved wife gets on your nerves, your unsaved teenager does something and you respond, and as a result you feel defiled. Consequently, when the elements are presented in the service, you do not feel like taking the bread, or you want to let the cup go by, because you do not feel right; you feel unclean because you have been in contact with a corpse. Is that not what happens to us? It is what happens, isn't it? It certainly has happened to me. But God says, "No, eat the pesach." We are told in I Corinthians 11 that the Lord's Supper ministers to us in our weakness. Do not be robbed of your peace. When you come, there is a place for you at the Lord's table. I repeat: Do not be robbed of your peace. Do not allow the circumstances, which drag you down emotionally to also drag you down spiritually. Yes, a corpse has defiled you; there's no denying that. God knows that; you know that; everybody knows that. But you can still come to His table. He makes a provision; He ministers to us in our weakness. And there is much, much meaning in the Lord's Supper, which you can come to taste.
God's provision for the corpses we must handle. God's provision for the dead we must be open to. Turn with me, please, in conclusion, to Numbers chapter 19, verse 11: "The one who touches the corpse of any person shall be unclean for seven days." Now, notice 'seven days'. God created the earth in six days, then rested on the seventh. He organized our week into seven days. "That one shall purify himself from uncleanness." Again, the Hebrew concept is tahor. "With the water on the third day and on the seventh day, then he shall be clean. But if he does not purify himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he shall not be clean. Anyone who touches a corpse, the body of a man who has died, and does not purify himself, defiles the tabernacle of the Lord. And that person shall be cut off from Israel." Again, you know that when you touch a corpse, you are defiled. Unsaved people, even when they are close relatives, defile. If you're sleeping with your wife or your husband and he or she is not a believer, it defiles. You have to be made pure. "If he does not purify himself, they defile the tabernacle of the Lord." How do you avoid defiling God's tabernacle when you are married to an unbeliever? "That person shall be cut off from Israel, because the water for impurity was not sprinkled on him. He shall be unclean, and his uncleanness is still on him. This is the law when a man dies in a tent; everyone who comes into the tent and everyone who sits in the tent shall be unclean seven days." Notice again, seven days."Every open vessel which has no covering tied down on it shall be unclean." Do not even drink from the same jug. "Also, anyone who in the open field touches one who has been slain with the sword, or one who has died naturally, or a human bone, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days." That is why the Jews had to whitewash tombs. The Jews prepared burial sites ahead of time, and people would sleep in the unoccupied tombs for the pilgrim festivals, such as Passover. But if the tomb had a dead person in it, they whitewashed it so people would know that it had a corpse in it. This was a warning that entering it, thereby being made ritualistically unclean for the festivals, would ritualistically defile you. That is what Jesus called the Pharisees: 'whitewashed tombs'.Tombs occupied by corpses.
"He shall be unclean seven days. Then, for the unclean person, they shall take some of the ashes of the burnt purification from sin and flowing water shall be added to them in a vessel. And a clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water and sprinkle it on the tent, and on the furnishings, and on the persons who are there. And on the one who touched the bone, or the one slain, or the one dying naturally, or the grave. Then the person shall sprinkle on the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day, he shall purify himself from uncleanness, and he shall wash his clothes and bath himself in water and shall be clean by evening." There is a meaning in this mention of the evening and the night; we will talk about this, Lord willing, next spring at our conference on 'Understanding the Great Tribulation'. "But the man who is unclean, and does not purify himself from uncleanness, that person shall be cut off from the assembly, because he had defiled the sanctuary of the Lord." Not only his own body now, but the sanctuary. "The water for impurity has not been sprinkled on him; therefore he is unclean. So it shall be a perpetual statute for them; he who sprinkled the water for impurity shall wash his clothes and he who touches the water for impurity shall be unclean until evening. Furthermore, anything that the unclean person touches shall be unclean. And the person who touches it shall be unclean until evening."
When you come into contact with the dead, you are unclean; your garments are defiled. God makes a provision: washing with the water of purification. What does it say in Ephesians chapter 5 (among other references)? How does Jesus cleanse the bride in order to make her ready for the wedding? He washes her with the water of the Word. The Word of God purifies us. It decontaminates us from our connections with the dead. But if someone does not apply the water of purification, 'they defile the sanctuary and shall be cut off from their people.' Do you ever notice that when young people grow up Christian and then fall away from the Lord, they often marry unsaved people if they do not repent? Remember how Esau broke his parents' hearts in marrying a pagan?
But what if you're already married to a pagan when you get saved? Hyssop comes into the picture here. Hyssop had to do with applying the blood, did it not? The people would take the hyssop, the blood, and the Passover; the blood of the Lamb would be in a trowel, and they would dip hyssop in it and then apply it to the lintels and the doorposts in the form of a bloody cross. King David, in his penitential psalm, Psalm 51, says, "Purge me with hyssop." Yet Scripture tells us that it had to be someone who was clean who applied it. Somebody who was, in other words, not defiled.
We need fellowship with each other, those of us out there in frequent or constant contact with the dead. That is one reason why there need to be some people in full-time Christian service in a church of any size. Once a church grows large, the people in it do not have to come into contact with the world as much, and it will not be defiled as much; the people will then be in more of a position to minister to each other. Now, that is not a commercial advocating full-time clergy. Before I itinerated, I was never paid for the ministry; I filled prescriptions in a pharmacy if I needed a job. I respect tentmaking, and if I did not have to travel, I would still 'make tents'. However, I also know that once a church grows, there are reasons that they may need some full-time pastors. This is one of them.
People come in here who have been in contact with the dead; they need restoration and refreshing -- those who are unclean need contact with the clean. They 'wash with the water', and then they wash their robes. Notice this were the third and seventh days; there was a reason for the Methodists to have Sunday church and then home groups of Bible studies during the mid-week. There is a strategy behind this idea of having a mid-week Bible study on Wednesdays, and then church on Sundays. The third day and the seventh; that is how God organized the week. For example, there is an old story told about a rope, when it would sag in the middle, you lifted it up again. The third day and the seventh. You are out there with dead people all the time; I would not want to wait seven days for a shower. If I worked in a morgue, I would be scrubbing continually. No, I would not wait a week to send my clothes out to the laundry. Them stiffs, they get funky. Lazarus has been dead four days - horrible. The third day and the seventh, you purge with hyssop, you wash with the water, and then you rinse your robes. The robes of the priests, we are told, were made out of linen.
Turn with me, please, to the book of Revelation, chapter 19 verse 8:"And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean, for the fine linen is mitzvoth - the righteous acts of the saints."Isaiah speaks of the garments of salvation, which cover the naked state of fallen man. Jesus talked of the wedding garment; the priest's garment is linen. The righteous acts of the saints, our good works, our Christian service, our deeds, and our ministry - those things become defiled; they get soiled. If we work with the dead, it rubs off on our good works, our Christian service, etc. Those things become contaminated. How can they be made pure again? How can they be made clean again? This is not a church - it is a laundry! This is the place. Where are the robes? Wash with the water where the clean can apply the hyssop to the unclean. That is how we are restored from the unfortunate ramifications of our contact with the dead. That is how we become tahor; that is how we become purified, how we become clean. God knows that we must handle the dead. He knows we must come into contact with the dead. He understands how they defile, and He makes provisions for cleansing from that defilement. But if we do not follow the provisions, woe unto us.
Most of us are yoked in some way. Maybe, for example, in your employment or your business situation from before you were a Christian. Maybe you were married before you became a Christian to somebody who was not a Christian and who still isn't. Maybe all kinds of things - unbelieving parents; God knows that. God understands that. Leviticus 21,"for his closest relative, the priest of the Lord may defile himself." They still defile, but God makes a provision for it. He says, 'No, no, you can come to My table. You can eat the Passover. You can take the Lord's Supper. There is as much place for you at the Lord's table as there is for any other believer.' He makes a provision for cleansing; a kind of temporary sanctification for your unsaved close relatives, your children, your wife, your husband - until they either get saved or break the yoke and go. He makes a provision. He makes a provision at least twice a week. You need to meet with the clean. When you are constantly working with the dead, you need to meet with the living. We need to have a good scrubbing - 'washing with the water' - they defile us. We need to launder our linen garments in order that our good works, the 'righteous deeds of the saints', can be made pure again. We need the hyssop. We need each other on the third and seventh days. God understands. He knows what it is like to have to deal with the dead. He accommodates that; He makes a provision. But He does expect us to follow His provision.
If you are yoked, if you are handling a corpse, God knows that and makes provision for it. But apart from that yoke, the closest relative for whom the priest of the Lord may defile himself, God makes no provision. None at all!
The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to put this across as straightforwardly as possible. "Do not be bound together with unbelievers. What partnership has righteousness and lawlessness? What fellowship has light with darkness? What harmony has Christ with Belial?" (2 Cor. 6) What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What do the living have to do with the dead? Nothing; absolutely nothing!