Remember when Jesus said that the words of the Pharisees were like walking over dead bodies? This is in Luke 11:44 –
“Woe to you! You are like unmarked graves. People walk over you not even knowing that they have become defiled.” (from “Religious Hypocrites Discredited” in the Condensed Gospel rendition.)
(The original reads “Woe to you! You are like unmarked graves; the people who walk over them don’t know it.”)
What does this mean? How bad is it to have contact with a dead body? Pretty bad, it turns out.
The entire 19th chapter of Numbers covers the very difficult process of becoming ritually clean after contact with a dead body. I’ve included it at the end of this post so you can read it for yourself.
This is no simple process – you can’t do it overnight.
Here is the summary –
First, a pure and unblemished red heifer that has never been yoked has to be taken outside of the camp and slaughtered. Then all of it is burned to ash, along with cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson yarn. The ash is mixed with water, and that water is then used to purify the person who was rendered unclean from a dead body.
All along the way, each person involved in the process of creating this substance becomes unclean themselves for various lengths of time. There are four different people who become unclean – the priest, the person who burns the heifer, the person who gathers the ashes, and the person who sprinkles the water on the unclean person. This is a huge inconvenience for each person involved. Being unclean means that you are separated from other people to various degrees.
The person is unclean for seven days, and must be purified with the water on the third and seventh day. If not, he is cut off from Israel forever, and remains perpetually unclean.
It is bad enough when you intentionally become unclean – but terrible when it is unintentional. You are defiled, and you don’t even know. You won’t know that you have to undergo the process to become clean because you don’t even know you are unclean.
What Jesus is saying is that the teachings of the Pharisees are leading people so astray that they are in danger of becoming unclean to the point that they will never be able to be part of the community again. The fact that they don’t even know that they have become defiled means that they don’t have an opportunity to become clean again. He is warning us about false teachers today as well. Always match up whatever any minister tells you with the Word of God to make sure that you don’t get misled.
Numbers 19 (Holman Christian Standard Bible translation)
The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, 2 “This is the legal statute that the Lord has commanded: Instruct the Israelites to bring you an unblemished red cow that has no defect and has never been yoked. 3 Give it to Eleazar the priest, and he will have it brought outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence. 4 Eleazar the priest is to take some of its blood with his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the front of the tent of meeting. 5 The cow must be burned in his sight. Its hide, flesh, and blood, are to be burned along with its dung. 6 The priest is to take cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson yarn, and throw them onto the fire where the cow is burning. 7 Then the priest must wash his clothes and bathe his body in water; after that he may enter the camp, but he will remain ceremonially unclean until evening. 8 The one who burned the cow must also wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and he will remain unclean until evening. 9 “A man who is clean is to gather up the cow’s ashes and deposit them outside the camp in a ceremonially clean place. The ashes must be kept by the Israelite community for preparing the water to remove impurity; it is a sin offering. 10 Then the one who gathers up the cow’s ashes must wash his clothes, and he will remain unclean until evening. This is a permanent statute for the Israelites and for the foreigner who resides among them. 11 “The person who touches any human corpse will be unclean for seven days. 12 He is to purify himself with the water on the third day and the seventh day; then he will be clean. But if he does not purify himself on the third and seventh days, he will not be clean. 13 Anyone who touches a body of a person who has died, and does not purify himself, defiles the tabernacle of the Lord. That person will be cut off from Israel. He remains unclean because the water for impurity has not been sprinkled on him, and his uncleanness is still on him. 14 “This is the law when a person dies in a tent: everyone who enters the tent and everyone who is already in the tent will be unclean for seven days, 15 and any open container without a lid tied on it is unclean. 16 Anyone in the open field who touches a person who has been killed by the sword or has died, or who even touches a human bone, or a grave, will be unclean for seven days. 17 For the purification of the unclean person, they are to take some of the ashes of the burnt sin offering, put them in a jar, and add fresh water to them. 18 A person who is clean is to take hyssop, dip it in the water, and sprinkle the tent, all the furnishings, and the people who were there. He is also to sprinkle the one who touched a bone, a grave, a corpse, or a person who had been killed. 19 “The one who is clean is to sprinkle the unclean person on the third day and the seventh day. After he purifies the unclean person on the seventh day, the one being purified must wash his clothes and bathe in water, and he will be clean by evening. 20 But a person who is unclean and does not purify himself, that person will be cut off from the assembly because he has defiled the sanctuary of the Lord. The water for impurity has not been sprinkled on him; he is unclean. 21 This is a permanent statute for them. The person who sprinkles the water for impurity is to wash his clothes, and whoever touches the water for impurity will be unclean until evening. 22 Anything the unclean person touches will become unclean, and anyone who touches it will be unclean until evening.”