Leviticus 9-11; Mark 7; Acts 10: Become clean and holy from the inside out

Yisra’el has a long history of forgetting what makes people “holy,” what makes them “clean” to approach the Presence of the Name. The LORD does that; the person doesn’t make himself or herself holy. It’s also often been lost that being declared tamé (“unclean”) doesn’t make one sinful or wicked either. Understanding the parable of “clean” and “unclean” is key to understanding Yeshua’s instructions on hand-washing in Mark 7 and Peter’s vision of unclean meats in Acts 10.

Yeshua’s frequently argued with the Pharisees over their emphasis on their man-made traditions over the plain word of scripture and how their man-made traditions were doing more to keep people away from God than bringing them into God’s embrace.

Even after Yeshua’s death and resurrection, these false ideas about the inherent holiness of the Jewish people and the inherent wickedness of the Gentiles was hindering God’s goal to lift up, bring near, make clean and declare holy believers from the nations in the same way Heaven does for the “native-born.”

New beginnings

“Now it came about on the eighth day that Moshe called Aharon and his sons and the elders of Yisrael;” (Leviticus 9:1 NASB)

One of the patterns we see in the Torah reading שְׁמִינִי Shemini is the pattern of eight. No. 8 in Hebrew is שְׁמֹנֶה shemoneh (H8083); eighth, שְׁמִינִי shemini (H8066). It is related to the verb שמן shaman, which means fat, plenty. In the scriptures, fat is a metaphor for being slow to respond. So, shemoneh and shemini communicate something reached fullness and going beyond.

Eight people entered the Ark to survive the Flood (Gen 7:7; 7:13; 1Pet. 3:20). They were a new beginning for mankind, both spiritually and physically.

Sadly, with just eight people in the ark, the ark was full, but it was a gateway between the old world and the new world. Spiritually, those eight were the family who acted righteously trusting in God’s words.

Physically, those eight were a genetic “bottleneck.” Today, we find one major line of the X chromosome — Noach and his sons — and three mitochondrial DNA lines — that of Noach’s wife and the wives of his sons’ wives.1

God commanded Abraham to circumcise boys on the eighth day of life, and Abraham does so with Yitzkhak (Gen. 17:12; 21:4). This was not a random choice. The circumcision was a new beginning for every man in Abraham’s household.

Approaching the Presence

Leviticus 1–8 describes the process God required for the priesthood to approach toward God’s Presence. When God entered the Tabernacle, He evicted everyone, even Moshe. But God didn’t leave it there. God also gave the people a way to come back in.

The word mostly translated as offering or sacrifice in that section is qorban (plural, qorbanot).

The root verb qarab means to go near, so qorban means the thing that takes one near.

So, the qorbanot allow priests and others of Yisrael to approach God’s Presence in the Tabernacle.

The people could not just waltz into the Tabernacle at any time. They couldn’t just sit back, kick up their feet and relax in front of the mercy seat. This was approaching the Creator of Heaven and Earth. There is a big distinction between the Creator and His creation. Yet He is calling out to us. He calls out from the Tabernacle, where He placed His presence. The Lord wanted to camp right in the midst of the people. God willed it and made it happen.

The people were able to enter God’s presence symbolically through the qorban. There is a way in through the veil. For those of us in Messiah Yeshua, we know that He is the reason for that new beginning.

Being declared Tahor/Clean doesn’t make one holy (kadosh)— set apart by God — but it does keep one holy. Being declared Tame/Unclean doesn’t make one sinful or wicked.

‘Good’ and ‘holy’

What’s the difference between being “good” and being “holy”? Didn’t the LORD declare everything “good” in creation (Genesis 1)? The Hebrew word for good is tov. We often conflate the terms tov  kadosh, which means holy. Yeshua called out someone on this issue when He said:

“And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18 NASB)

Yeshua wanted to make clear what being tov really means. The man Yeshua was speaking to didn’t understand what he was really saying. What he was saying is that Yeshua is good, as God is good and that Yeshua and God were equals. That is most likely not what the man meant, even if it was totally true.

Moshe made the Tabernacle “according to the pattern God gave him.” The people of Yisrael later fixated on the Tabernacle so much that the Tabernacle/Temple became more important in their esteem than the one for whom the Tabernacle/Temple was built.

The only way to keep the Law is with the new heart that God gives to those who love Him, which is the prophesied New Covenant (Jer. 31:31–34). God did not find fault with His law but with the people.

“Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aharon, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them.” (Leviticus 10:1 NASB)

The word that is translated as “strange” fire, is more accurately translated as “foreign” fire. It was not supposed to be there.

“But Moshe searched carefully for the goat of the sin offering, and behold, it had been burned up! So he was angry with Aharon’s surviving sons Eleazar and Ithamar, saying, ‘Why did you not eat the sin offering at the holy place? For it is most holy, and He gave it to you to bear away the guilt of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the LORD. Behold, since its blood had not been brought inside, into the sanctuary, you should certainly have eaten it in the sanctuary, just as I commanded.’ But Aharon spoke to Moshe, ‘Behold, this very day they presented their sin offering and their burnt offering before the LORD. When things like these happened to me, if I had eaten a sin offering today, would it have been good in the sight of the LORD?’ When Moshe heard that, it seemed good in his sight.” (Leviticus 10:16–20 NASB)

As we read in the Prophets, we see that one of God’s many criticisms of the priesthood is how they merely went through the motions of their duties. The priests were not performing their duties with their whole hearts. God cares about our hearts and our actions being in sync, being in one accord.

Aharon tells Moshe that due to the very recent deaths of his two sons, he and his surviving sons were not in the right frame of mind to properly eat the sin offering. Notice although Moshe had been upset that the letter of the law wasn’t followed, God didn’t criticize Aharon in this matter. Aharon also reassured Moshe that he was not seeking to establish a separate precedent from God’s plain instruction on how to treat the people’s sin offerings.

A contract becomes worthless if the two parties involved in it aren’t acting in good faith. The terms of the new covenant also need both sides to act in good faith. When you understand the contract, the purpose of it, and follow its terms, you are in complete fellowship with the other party in the contract. All the terms have to be defined carefully. If the terms aren’t carefully defined, the interpretation can be twisted.

Did Yeshua ‘declare all foods clean’ (Mark 7:1-23)?

This is a passage commonly brought up in the Body of Messiah. The flashpoint of this story is in verse 5. We see the main point of confrontation between the Pharisees and Yeshua.

“The Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered around Him when they had come from Jerusalem, and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.) The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?” (Mark 7:1–5 NASB)

One of the innovations of the Pharisees is that they took many rituals related to the priests and the tabernacle and made them into traditions that they taught the regular people to keep with the same authority as they kept the laws of the Torah itself. One of these rituals they carried out very seriously were the washings.

Rituals and traditions are not bad in and of themselves. For example, it’s a good thing to wash one’s hands before eating a meal, but Yeshua reminds us that we are to distinguish that which is “thus saith the Lord” vs. what is a tradition. As long as the distinctions are maintained, as long as we don’t put our traditions on equal status with God’s word, we are living in balance.

Are we doing something that God told us to do or something a good teacher told us to do? To tell people that they are out of step with God if they don’t follow one of our traditions, is a dangerous precedent to set.

The punchline, or the point of Yeshua’s teaching, is that it is what is in our hearts that makes us unclean, not what we eat or drink.

“ ‘[T]here is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.’” (Mark 7:15 NASB)

“ ‘That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.’ ” (Mark 7:20–23 NASB)

Are you more worried about the things on the outside that are affecting you than those things that come from the inside out?

Yeshua cut to the “heart of the matter”: hypocrisy.

“ ‘Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” [Isa. 29:13]. Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.’ ” (Mark 7:6–8 NASB)

“So the word of the LORD to them will be, “Order on order, order on order, Line on line, line on line, A little here, a little there,” That they may go and stumble backward, be broken, snared and taken captive.” (Isaiah 28:13 NASB)

When you look at the history of the Northern Kingdom, they had priests and prophets but they were utterly ignorant. Their leaders were clueless. They had drifted so far from God that they had no knowledge.

In the Southern Kingdom, they were blinded and in a deep sleep. Both of them had put their faith in someplace other than God. The Southern Kingdom had put their faith in Egypt. They expected Egypt to bail them out of their situation, but that did not happen.

True prophets of God came to both kingdoms to try to steer them away from their errors and both kingdoms ignored God.

The scribes were supposed to be the most literate people in the community and yet they didn’t understand what they were writing and teaching.

Hypocrite comes from the Greek word ὑποκριτή hupokritē (G5273).2

  1. one who answers, an interpreter (Plato, Lucian)
  2. an actor, stage-player (Aristophanes, Xenophon, Plato, Aelian, Herodian)
  3. in Biblical Greek, a dissembler, pretender, hypocrite

The heart is at issue, whether it’s an actor who we watch them. Regardless of how convincing an actor is, we know that they are not defined by their role.

The dirt that we need to worry about is the dirt that comes from within, not the dirt on the outside. The dirt on the outside can be washed away with water, the dirt on the inside can only be washed away by Yeshua.

If you want to practice the tradition of washing hands, feet, etc. that is all well and good but don’t make more of it than there is. Don’t confuse traditions with God’s actual words.

Did Peter’s vision in Acts 10 signal an end of ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’?

“Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually. About the ninth hour of the day he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God who had just come in and said to him, “Cornelius!” And fixing his gaze on him and being much alarmed, he said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God. “Now dispatch some men to Joppa and send for a man named Simon, who is also called Peter; he is staying with a tanner named Simon, whose house is by the sea.” When the angel who was speaking to him had left, he summoned two of his servants and a devout soldier of those who were his personal attendants, and after he had explained everything to them, he sent them to Joppa. On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he *saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky.” (Acts 10:1–16 NASB)

“Opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.” (Acts 10:34–35 NASB)

“All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.” (Acts 10:45 NASB)

This story is recorded here for the sake of people, not food. God “lifts up” — “brings near,” makes “clean,” declares “holy” — believers from the nations the same way Heaven does for the “native-born.” The Blood of Yeshua the Mashiakh covers sin, transgression and iniquity. The nations are being brought near to God.

This is the testimony of the annual memorials of Pesakh (Passover) and Yom haKippurim (Day of Atonement). Believers from the nations, aka Gentiles, are no longer “sojourners” or “aliens” living among Yisrael because Yeshua also is their qorban.

God did not lower the bar to let the Gentiles in. He poured out His Holy Spirit on the Gentile followers of Yeshua just as He did on the Jewish followers so they both could be of one mind, one community and set apart.

“But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household,” (Ephesians 2:13–19 NASB)

God wants to expand the garden of Eden until it fills the entire earth. God wanted the Jewish people to invite the Gentiles in but they didn’t do so. Yeshua didn’t put up the dividing wall, the Jewish religious leaders did that. It was Yeshua who tore the veil and took down the wall of separation.

This is a fulfillment of a prophecy through Yeshiyahu (Isaiah):

“Creating the praise of the lips. Peace, peace to him who is far and to him who is near,” Says the LORD, ‘and I will heal him.’” (Isa. 57:19)

Note that the context of Isaiah 57 is the God’s releasing Yisrael from exile. So, a broader lesson is that just as God brought native-born near again into a special-mission body called Yisrael, God was bringing the sojourners near into that body too.

“God-fearers” become citizens of Yisrael via Mashiakh and the Spirit. Some say that Paul in this passage teaches that the Torah was what kept native-born and God-fearers apart, but Paul noted that God’s longstanding “good works,” i.e., the Torah still governed the “new creation”:

The Spirit of God transforms — continually cleans ever better — the person ever more into Mashiakh’s likeness.

The people of Yisrael had a long history of forgetting what made them Holy. It was God who made them holy. They didn’t make themselves holy.

We should not fall into the extremes of the Pharisees that we are are so separated from the world that we can’t bring them into the fold.

Summary: Tammy

Banner image: “Peter’s vision” by Julius Schnorr, public domain, circa 1909.

  1. Robert Carter, Ph.D., “Adam, Eve and Noah vs Modern Genetics,” Creation Ministries International, 11 May 2010, <http://creation.com/noah-and-genetics
  2. Joseph H. Thayer, D.D. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, public domain, s.v. “ὑποκριτή” paragraph 9553. 

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