1.3.4 Water: Restoration and Cleansing
Volume 1: Foundations—Chapter 3.4
Water: Restoration and Cleansing
With good reason, we find comfort in the words: “Yahweh is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:1-3) “They shall feed along the ways; on all bare heights shall be their pasture; they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for He who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.” (Isaiah 49:9-10) Restoration, refreshing, life itself—that is how water is perceived by a thirsty man, and rightly so. Our bodies are about sixty percent water: we can’t live very long without it. Once again, the parallels between the way Yahweh has built our bodies and the way He communicates His character to us are too blatant to ignore. Every time we turn around, we’re being asked to see water as a symbol: the water that makes our physical life possible is a metaphor for the nature of God—that which makes our spiritual life possible.
Today, many of us tend to take water for granted, but we shouldn’t. Civilizations live and die based upon the availability of water. The idea of turning on a tap and dispensing clean, fresh water in your home would have been considered utterly miraculous to most people living more than a century ago. Settlements were built only where water was available, and they never grew into cities unless the water supply was abundant and steady. One cannot imagine ancient Egyptian civilization without the Nile, the glories of Mesopotamia without the Tigris and Euphrates, nor Rome without the Tiber (supplemented by some amazing aqueducts in later times). Even a dump like Muhammad’s Mecca could not have existed without the well of ZamZam.
Just as you’d be crazy to build a home where you couldn’t get water, you’d be insane (in my opinion) to build a life without the living water of God’s love. So the prophet writes, “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for Yah, Yahweh, is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” (Isaiah 12:2-3) It’s poetic, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t factual. “Water” here is obviously a metaphor for all the good things Isaiah is joyfully “drawing” from Yahweh’s “well,” that is, salvation, plus someone in whom he can confidently place his trust, a refuge from fear, a source of strength, and a reason to sing. All of this is said to come from “the wells of salvation.” The word translated “salvation” here (all three times) is the Hebrew yâshuw`ah, phonetically indistinguishable from the Messiah’s given name: Yahshua. Between the lines, Isaiah is declaring that Yahshua the Messiah is the source of all these good things, and that Yahweh has become Him. (Note also that the shortened form of Yahweh’s self-revealed name, “Yah,” used seventy-seven times in scripture, is paralleled with “Yahweh,” confirming their equivalence.)
Productive wells, of course, were guarded jealously, for their waters were a valuable, even essential, commodity to their owners. But in both the Tanach and the Renewed Covenant scriptures, Yahweh makes it clear that His water is given away freely to anyone who wants to live. First, He says, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1) Those who would have you believe that the cost of salvation is your obedience, your obeisance, alms, penance, or good behavior are lying to you. Yes, those things may (and should) be offered to God in response to having been freely given the water of life, but its actual cost is so high you can’t even begin to pay for it: it’s the innocent blood of God’s own Anointed One. Having personally paid that price, Yahshua Himself now tells us the same thing: “And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also He said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ And He said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.’” (Revelation 21:5-6) The water of life isn’t so much “free” as it is “already-paid-for.” “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city…. The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” (Revelation 22:1-2, 17) All we have to do is realize—and admit—that we’re thirsty. The invitation stands: come, satisfy the desire for life that burns within you.
The symbolic connection between water and eternal life was explained (sort of) by Yahshua to a Samaritan woman. He and His disciples were passing through town, and He asked her for a drink, since she was drawing water from a well. When she expressed surprise that a Jew like Him would even condescend to speak with her, He replied, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water…. Everyone who drinks of this water [from the well] will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:10, 13-14) Several things bear mention. First, the “water” that Yahshua was offering the woman couldn’t have been H2O, the same stuff she was offering to Him. It was, rather, the symbolic spiritual equivalent: it was “water” that would do for her soul what her well water would do for His body—keep it alive. Second, just as He was asking her for a drink, so she (and we) must ask for the living water—He didn’t force her to take it. Third, He alone is the source of the living water, the bearer of the “gift of God.” She couldn’t have procured it from another source—the elders of Israel, for example, or some false Messiah that might come along, her own Samaritan religious traditions, or her self-centered, hedonistic lifestyle. Fourth, the “water” Yahshua offered her was provided just as freely as the water she was drawing for Him. And fifth, the living water Yahshua was prepared to give her would henceforth well up eternally within her—she would never again have to feel spiritual “thirst” or emptiness for lack of God’s indwelling presence.
This wasn’t the only time Yahshua used the “water” metaphor to explain the principle of spiritual indwelling. “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this He said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:37-39) The eighth and last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, called here “the great day,” is indicative of the eternal state, a factor that invests Yahshua’s words with undying significance. Again, the picture of a spring-fed river is presented, leading us to reflect on something important: the water in a river brings life not only to itself, but to all of the places it touches. If you look out upon a rural landscape, you can tell instantly if there’s a creek running through the scene, even if you can’t see the creek itself. Where the water flows, plant life will flourish: trees will be bigger and closer together; vegetation will be noticeably more lush and dense. And so it is where the Spirit of Yahweh flows as living water out of the hearts of those who believe in and rely upon Him. Life, like truth, tends to be contagious.
Rivers tend to follow certain patterns of behavior, and perhaps we can draw some cogent analogies from the way water flows in nature. The “point” of a river is to get the water from the headwaters, high in the mountains, to the sea, providing life and sustenance to whatever it encounters along the way. We can view the mountains as the majestic throne of God, and the sea as the mass of lost and needy humanity. We believers are the river connecting the two, carrying the Spirit to its intended destination. So how do the waters (the Spirit) move? The driving force is gravity: water flows downhill. Gravity, I’d say, is analogous to the urgency, the seriousness, with which we approach the Word of God.
From the high ground of Eden, we’re told that four rivers flowed—in four different directions. This may indicate Yahweh’s initial willingness to allow His truth to be disseminated among a variety of human cultural traditions (though all originating from the same source), so it’s worth noting that ever since the flood of Noah, two of those rivers can no longer be identified with any certainty, and the other two (the Hiddekel, or Tigris, and the Euphrates) roughly parallel each other for most of their course—the headwaters of the Tigris being within a few miles of the course of the Euphrates in modern Turkey. If this line of inquiry has any validity at all (and I’m the first to admit that I’m thinking outside the box here) God may be telling us that in light of the present fallen condition of man, His Spirit flows only one way, in one direction. I find it fascinating that the Tigris (Hiddekel means “rapid”) and Euphrates (meaning “fruitfulness”) join to become one river just before they finally reach their destination. Could it be that Yahweh is teaching us something about Israel and the ekklesia? I think He might be.
Lending credence to this hypothesis is that Ezekiel, having been among the Jews hauled off to Babylon in chains, was tasked to help dig Nebuchadnezzar’s grand canal joining the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers near Baghdad—the Chebar “River.” If a project instigated by a man who was known as a “king of kings” (Daniel 2:37) was designed to join two rivers that are metaphorical (according to the theory) of Israel and the ekklesia (or alternately, the gentiles who, throughout man’s history, have chosen to honor Yahweh), then it would be instructive indeed to look into what Ezekiel was shown there. It was at the River Chebar that Ezekiel saw the stunning “wheel within a wheel” vision confirming God’s glory. It was here that he received his prophetic mandate to fearlessly warn Israel to cease their rebellious ways. And this was where he saw the vision of the Shekinah, the glory of Yahweh—abandoning the temple in disgust at Israel’s idolatry. The convergence of Israel’s failure and the gentiles’ opportunity (ultimately realized in the ekklesia) is thus pictured by the Chebar Canal as nowhere else on earth.
But if we take this geographical metaphor to its logical conclusion, several interesting factors emerge: (1) Which represents whom? The Tigris/Hiddekel apparently represents Israel, while the Euphrates represents the gentile nations, since the gentile (Euphrates) “lifeline” is longer and considerably more convoluted. (2) If the two rivers are seen as a timeline, then the location of the Chebar Canal is roughly equivalent to the First Century advent of Yahshua the Messiah—where Israel and the nations had their greatest opportunity to come together and “channel” the Spirit of Yahweh as one entity. A quick look at the map reveals what actually happened: abrupt divergence. The unity that the “King of kings” intended us to share has been postponed, deferred until much later in the story. (3) How will this finally be achieved? At the end of the line, the Euphrates becomes part of the Tigris, not the other way around. That is, Israel will emerge in the end as Yahweh’s conduit in the world, His restored and redeemed chosen nation—just as He promised in soon-to-be-fulfilled prophecies like Zechariah 8:21-23. I just love it when a metaphor comes together.
But I digress. We were talking about how rivers can teach us something about the “flow” of Yahweh’s Spirit in our world. Let’s return to the beginning. Driven by the force of gravity, small rivulets and brooks join to form larger streams and rivers. This is what we saw in the early ekklesia: unrestrained passion, the irresistible force of truth, and motives as pure as the water in a spring-fed mountain brook. As long as the downhill slope (the influence of gravity) is considerable, a stream will flow rapidly and with purpose, without deviating in its course. But what happens when a river (or a person) encounters a level plain, with no motivation, no compelling forces driving it? (This, not coincidentally, is the literal case with both the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers.) It slows down, broadens, and begins to meander. This is a poignant picture of what happens when we lose focus, when we forget that our job is to transmit God’s love to the world. Apathy breeds apostasy. Our doctrine wanders off, seeking its own path; our beliefs become broad, inclusive, and confused; our own spiritual progress slows to a crawl, and the water—the spiritual enlightenment—that’s supposed to pour unabated into the ocean of lost humanity becomes trapped in the stagnant, fetid swamp of religion.
But even in the most torpid of times, Yahweh has been known to cause new springs to come bubbling up to the surface, reinvigorating the spiritual river, causing it to once again begin flowing toward a thirsty world. As if to shake a stern finger of rebuke at well-meaning religious people who are all too happy to drift languidly along in their lukewarm religious swamp, Yahshua instructed His disciples not to criticize someone who does His work differently than they do—someone who has thrown off the shackles of traditional religious torpor and injected some gravity into the situation: “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.” (Mark: 9:39-41) In other words, don’t be too hasty to call your brother a heretic.
In the Torah, we find ourselves time and again faced with instructions concerning cleansing with water, ritually or otherwise. Standing immediately outside the tabernacle or temple was to be a bronze laver or basin. “Yahweh said to Moses, ‘You shall also make a basin of bronze, with its stand of bronze, for washing.” Bronze or brass is a metaphor for judgment, which in God’s mindset is not so much indicative of condemnation as it is separation—in this case, the clean from the defiled. “You shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar.” Its location was strategic, placed between the altar (where sacrifice was made) and the tabernacle itself (where one would encounter Yahweh). The point is that Christ’s sacrifice would do you no good if you were not willing to be cleansed. “And you shall put water in it, with which Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet.” The priests are those who would intercede and minister before God—metaphorical in the end of all believers, led by our High Priest Yahshua. The washing of our hands and feet is symbolic of letting God’s Spirit purify our works and walk. “When they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn a food offering to Yahweh, they shall wash with water, so that they may not die.” This time, the water isn’t for drinking, but rather for cleansing. The result of using it, however, remains the same: life is preserved. “They shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they may not die. It shall be a statute forever to them, even to him and to his offspring throughout their generations.’” (Exodus 30:17-21)
Reconciliation with God, then, was a two-step process. Step one was sacrifice, performed at the altar—the shedding of innocent blood. Step two was cleansing—washing by water (as before, symbolic of the Word of God, conveyed by His Holy Spirit). Both steps had to be completed before one could come before Yahweh: before he could see by the light of the seven-branched lampstand, partake of the provision of God at the table of showbread, communicate with our Father through prayer at the altar of incense, and ultimately, step into the Most Holy Place, into the very presence of Yahweh. A study of the tabernacle’s layout and furnishings reveals that virtually everything was given specific dimensions and specifications. But the bronze laver is a notable exception. It is as if Yahweh is telling us, “There’s no limit to My capacity for cleansing you; there is no amount of filth I can’t wash away in the shadow of the Messiah’s perfect sacrifice.
A perusal of the Torah (especially the book of Leviticus) reveals that every time we turn around, God is instructing a ritual cleansing of one sort or another—usually achieved through washing with water. Priests, for example, were to be ritually bathed during their ordination ceremony. “Moses said to the congregation, ‘This is the thing that Yahweh has commanded to be done.’ And Moses brought Aaron and his sons and washed them with water.” (Leviticus 8:5-6) Washing with water was also prescribed for all sorts of bodily functions that, while part of the ordinary course of life, were defined as “ritually defiling.” They could imply illness, but didn’t necessarily. For example, “When any man has a discharge from his body, his discharge is unclean. And this is the law of his uncleanness for a discharge: whether his body runs with his discharge, or his body is blocked up by his discharge, it is his uncleanness.” (Leviticus 15:2-3) This could include anything from emissions of semen to the common cold to bubonic plague. For women, very specific instructions along similar lines were given concerning menses and childbirth. Israelites were to avoid physical contact with the one who had any of these “discharges,” and the remedy for having such contact was (as we read dozens of times) that the defiled person was to “wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening.”
Nobody could completely avoid becoming ceremonially “unclean,” of course. The state of ritual impurity was inevitable and unavoidable, though being clean and undefiled was clearly to be preferred. Priests, for example, could not perform certain of their duties while ceremonially defiled. But the human condition guaranteed ritual defilement from time to time. Sex, for instance, made both partners “ritually unclean,” and yet without it, the human race would disappear in one generation—clearly violating God’s command to “Be fruitful and multiply.” So it should come as no surprise that Yahweh never prohibited the things that caused defilement; He only insisted that we take pains to become clean again.
The ultimate permutation of defilement or uncleanness was death. But Yahweh had a remedy for this as well: the ordinance of the “Red Heifer.” Basically, a young cow, red in color, was to be sacrificed and burned to ashes, which were to be mixed with water and sprinkled upon anyone who had come in contact with a dead body. The whole complicated ritual, fraught with prophetic significance, is recounted in Numbers 19. The bottom line: “If the man who is unclean [through contact with death] does not cleanse himself, that person shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, since he has defiled the sanctuary of Yahweh. Because the water for impurity has not been thrown on him, he is unclean. And it shall be a statute forever for them. The one who sprinkles the water for impurity shall wash his clothes, and the one who touches the water for impurity shall be unclean until evening. And whatever the unclean person touches shall be unclean, and anyone who touches it shall be unclean until evening.” (Numbers 19:20-22) Everybody involved, the one who had come in contact with death and those who were tasked with administering his remedy, were defiled—made ritually impure—in the process. The whole thing is a microcosm of the human condition. Being mortal, we all “touch death.” Even those who are part of that solution—preparing and delivering the “water of purification”—are in need of cleansing. The question is: are we willing to accept Yahweh’s solution to our problem?
These purification rituals we find in the Torah are of little practical use. That is, although practicing good basic hygiene is no doubt a good first step in remaining healthy, the rites as described in the Torah would have minimal effect in actually warding off disease. The ordinance of the red heifer, in particular, would seem less than efficacious in physically ensuring that contact with dead bodies did not result in life threatening illnesses. No, we really need to examine the symbolic aspects of these things if we hope to discern God’s life-lessons. The oft-repeated formula, you’ll recall, was for the defiled person to “wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening.” Let us therefore examine what these three things mean.
First, what we’re wearing is a common scriptural metaphor for our status before God—our clothes represent how He sees us. Are we butt naked, or wearing fig leave aprons we’ve cobbled together to hide our shame, or have we donned the tunics of innocent-animal skins He made for us? Do we, with Daniel, put on sackcloth and ashes when appropriate? Do we, with David, strip down to our bare necessities and dance with passionate abandon before Yahweh when it’s time to celebrate His awesome love? Do we prefer the scratchy wool of works-based religion, or the brilliant white linen garments of imputed righteousness? We aren’t called to monastic isolation: we’re commanded, rather, to go into all the world as witnesses of God’s love. But as we walk through the world as mortal believers, it’s inevitable that we’ll brush up against things that render us unclean. It can’t be helped. We aren’t to stay that way, however. We are told to wash our garments.
Second, we are to bathe our bodies. These mortal shells we inhabit aren’t designed to last forever, but they are gifts from God—necessary tools we all need to employ in the course of our work here on earth. It seems to me, we ought to take care of our tools, keep them sharp and clean, use them as they were intended, and so forth. I fully realize, of course, that you can go nuts with this—manifesting mental illnesses ranging from hypochondria to narcissism. But my body is going to look pretty much the same in a hundred years whether I pamper it and take it to the gym six days a week or if I give up and stop taking care of it altogether. It only has to get me to the end of my mortal life. So what is God talking about? I believe He’s telling us not to let the world’s grime and filth accumulate on us—or in us. Our bodies are, after all, the temple of the Holy Spirit. You wouldn’t ask Yahweh to live in a pigsty, would you?
Third, we need to face the uncomfortable fact that in reality, we’re going to remain “unclean”—even after we’ve been washed—until the sun goes down. That, my friends, is a thinly veiled euphemism for physical death (or rapture, if you happen to be part of that generation). The fact is, we cannot stand before a holy God clothed in these mortal bodies. We were never intended to. Paul reminds us, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable…. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory.” (I Corinthians 15:50, 53-55) Every believer in Yahshua will someday receive a body that’s built for eternal life with Him—a very different kind of body than the one in which we walk about in this present world. We’re going to ditch the defiled and put on the imperishable. Until then, our job is to keep these mortal vessels clean through frequent washing in the Word and immersion in the Spirit of God.
In reality, of course, it is not ourselves, but Yahweh who cleanses us. In what appears to be a reference to the ordinance of the Red Heifer, Yahweh promises this: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules [Hebrew mishpat—judgments, ordinances, judicial decisions]. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses.” (Ezekiel 36:25-29)
The Torah’s ritual washing instructions aren’t the only scriptural examples of cleansing in water. Another equally counterintuitive incident was played out during the time of Elisha the prophet. It seems that Naaman, a top general in the Syrian army and a man held in high regard by his king, was also a leper—something just as socially debilitating in Syria as it was in Israel. A Jewish slave girl in his household, knowing the power of Yahweh, suggested that her illustrious captor visit the prophet in Samaria—Elisha—for a cure. In an hilarious scene (okay, it wasn’t funny at the time), Naaman consults with his king, who (being a king) presumes that the most powerful guy in Israel is also its king, and therefore sends rich gifts to King Jehoram—along with a demand that he cure his leprous commander. Jehoram, of course, knowing that he can’t perform the impossible thing being asked of him, rends his clothes in mourning, presuming that this is all merely a perverse pretext for a Syrian declaration of war. But the prophet Elisha (being a prophet) gets wind of Jehoram’s little conundrum, and tells the king to send Naaman his way.
Here’s the scene: “So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, ‘Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.’ But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, ‘Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of Yahweh his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?’” The Jordan was just as turbid and muddy in those days as it is today. It’s not a particularly impressive river. “So he turned and went away in a rage.” Naaman was a great man. He figured he deserved an equally impressive cure. But God’s prophet didn’t even bother walking out of his front door to meet the man. He merely sent a messenger to tell him the unspectacular truth. “But his servants came near and said to him, ‘My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? He has only said to you, “Wash, and be clean.”’ So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” (II Kings 5:9-14)
It should be obvious that it wasn’t the water of the Jordan River that cured Naaman; it was his obedience to the Word of God through Elisha His prophet. One further gets the feeling that Naaman’s faith at this point was practically non-existent—it was more hope, even desperation. Naaman wasn’t really a “believer” until he saw the results of having submitted to God’s Word. That is, he “believed” only enough to admit the possibility of a cure by Israel’s God. In short, he was just the sort of guy Yahweh often calls: an honest searcher. Of course, he had an “advantage” in that he knew he needed to be cleansed. Most folks stumble through life in ignorance—or utter denial—of that fact. Naaman’s “faith” was actually created by observing the results of his own obedience. Religious people tend to think that their faith saves them. It does not. It’s Yahweh who saves. Faith is merely a byproduct of God’s love and provision. Naaman’s cleansing was, in the end, the result of his willingness (as reluctant as it was) to give God’s Word the benefit of the doubt. He, being a soldier, was a man who understood the difference between compulsion and free will. In this case, no one with authority was ordering him to dip in the Jordan. He could have bailed out at any time. He could have told his slave girl to shut up and go back to work. He could have gone back home and bathed in the Pharpar. He could have stopped after six washings in the Jordan. But in the end, he did as the prophet had told him to do, exercising his own free will, ironically enough, by submitting to the instructions of another.
So what did asking the leprous Naaman to bathe seven times in the Jordan River symbolize? Naaman’s name means pleasantness, delight, or beauty. But leprosy is symbolic of sin—a blemish on our character that if not dealt with will spread and fester and in the end consume us. Seven is the number of God’s perfection, of spiritual completion. Doing something seven times, then, pictures its full accomplishment, as when Yahshua declared on Calvary, “It is finished.” Rivers, as I noted above, are indicative of the course of our lives; and the water within them is symbolic of the moving of the Holy Spirit, whom we are tasked with “channeling” to a lost and thirsty world. And this particular river? The word “Jordan” is a transliteration of the Hebrew Yarden, meaning “descender.” The unique thing about this river is its destination: not the ocean, but the lowest point on the surface of the earth, the Dead Sea, some 1,400 feet below sea level, a place of lifeless desolation.
The picture, then, is something like this: our pleasantness and beauty before God is marred by ugly sin—something that will eventually kill us. This sin can be removed—that is, we can be made as innocent as a little child—but only by being washed, cleansed, and immersed in God’s Holy Spirit, who is set apart (for this is what “holy” means) from Yahweh on our behalf, descending to the place of death so that we might have life. However, it will not help us to simply “put our toe in the water,” to merely become knowledgeable about this Spirit or be aware of its existence. This cleansing immersion in the Spirit must be complete, unreserved, and totally voluntary: nobody will force us to obey God’s instructions.
It is worth noting that Naaman was a gentile—estranged from Yahweh—who was introduced to the cure for his leprosy/sin by an Israelite slave girl, which cure was performed through an Israelite prophet. After his cleansing, he had no choice but to return to his job in a pagan-dominated world. But he was eternally grateful to Israel, and he worshipped Yahweh its God from that day forward. This is (or should be) a picture of the ekklesia of Yahshua: called out of the world, saved by a God who works through Israel, and then sent back to the world to minister there. We, like Naaman, have been made spotless and innocent by the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit. Call me crazy, but I think we too ought to show our gratitude—to both Yahweh and Israel.
The parallels between Naaman’s symbolic cleansing and the New Covenant rite of baptism are too striking to ignore. As if to underscore what we’ve discovered about the meaning of Naaman’s experience in the Jordan, the risen Yahshua, just before His ascension, informed His disciples of their own impending immersion in Yahweh’s Spirit: “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:5) This was fulfilled, of course, in the events of the Day of Pentecost—a.k.a. the Feast of Weeks—that was fulfilled seven weeks to the day after Yahshua’s resurrection (as required in the Torah). This in turn had been prophesied by John the Baptist at the very beginning of Yahshua’s public ministry. “Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him [John], and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins….” John warned the scribes and Pharisees, “I baptize you with water for [i.e., because of] repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Matthew 3:5-6, 11)
John baptized in water people who wished to give evidence of their repentance, their change of mind and heart. But the baptism (literally, immersion) with the Holy Spirit that Yahshua brought us is tantamount to bestowing everlasting life upon someone, for God’s Spirit is eternal. Note that it is Yahshua Himself who does this for us. We cannot (as Simon the Sorcerer found out to his chagrin) baptize ourselves or others in the Holy Spirit. John also mentioned Christ “baptizing with fire.” The symbolism here is slightly different from baptism with the Spirit. Fire, like water, is spoken of as an agent of purification. Whereas water separates us from impurity by washing it away, fire separates us from impurity by destroying that which is worthless. In a way, this dual baptism is the same picture as that which we see in the tabernacle courtyard: life is bestowed upon us at the altar, where Yahweh’s perfect sacrifice is slain in retribution for our sin. This is followed by the cleansing of our hands and feet (our works and walk) at the bronze laver. If you have indeed been baptized into Christ, then both sides of your salvation—justification and sanctification—have been achieved, for as John said, our Messiah baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
Paul later alluded to the same principle, stated a bit differently: “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” That would be the spiritual equivalent of offering the sacrifice without availing oneself of the water of cleansing at the laver, or of being baptized with the Holy Spirit, but not with fire: both things are needed. “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Put another way, the inevitable result of uncleanness (read: sin) is death, but you can’t make a corpse alive by washing it. Both life and righteousness are required if we wish to stand before our God. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” (Romans 6:1-5) Like Naaman bathing in the “Descender,” the Jordan River, the baptism we observe today is a picture of the death of Christ and the cleansing it provides by removing our sins from us—followed by the picture of His resurrection (coming up out of the water): being raised into a new, holy, and eternal life. But there is absolutely no value in participating in the symbolic ritual of water baptism if you haven’t both been made eternally alive and cleansed through faith in Yahshua the Messiah. If you baptize a pagan, all you get is a wet pagan.
I’m not in the habit of quoting Shakespeare, but a scene from Macbeth comes to mind that vividly illustrates the psychological connection between the guilt of sin and our perception of being unclean. In Act 5, Scene 1, the sleepwalking, guilt-ridden Lady Macbeth is seen—and not for the first time—wringing her hands in anguish, trying to remove an invisible stain, one only she can see. She is heard muttering, “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!... What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account?—Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?... Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.”
You’re not alone, Lady M. We all have blood on our hands. The question is: why does it not drive us mad, as it did you? Have we become so adept at suppressing our consciences? Why do we find comfort in the fact that “everybody’s doing it”? Do we not realize that our sin has the power of death over us—that the least infraction, the smallest transgression of Yahweh’s standard of righteousness, is enough to separate us from Him forever?
As ironic as it seems, only when we are willing to acknowledge our sin before God in the light of day do we have any hope of being rid of its “damned spot.” David knew what it was like to yield to temptation, to compound his sin by trying to cover it up, and then to live in abject misery, estranged from His God, as he wallowed in denial and self deception. Faced at last with the reality of his sin, David pleaded, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me…. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:1-3, 7) The hyssop and washings are a reference to the symbols of the ordinance of the red heifer, that which was required to cleanse someone from the defilement of death. Significantly, David appeals not to his own righteousness, something he now knows to be either inadequate or nonexistent. Instead, he asks for mercy based on God’s unfathomable love. Christians tend to take this for granted, but we shouldn’t, for it’s totally counterintuitive. In essence, the sinful person stands before God saying, Since it’s Your standard I’ve violated, only You can pronounce me “not guilty.” It’s true, of course, but why should He?
The answer is found in the Torah (all of whose symbols were ultimately fulfilled by Yahshua the Messiah). The “Law of Moses” presents a dizzying array of sacrifices and offerings that the Israelites were to present before Yahweh. Basically, there were seven distinct types. (No surprise there.) I’ll cover them in some detail in a later chapter; for now, I’ll just list and define them:
(1) The olah, or “burnt offering,” pictured the Messiah’s total commitment. It was a voluntary sacrifice made for atonement, homage to Yahweh, or celebration before Him. Total dedication is implied, for the offering was to be completely consumed by fire.
(2) The minha, or grain offering, was a memorial of the provision of all our needs by Yahweh. The addition of oil symbolized the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and the sprinkling of frankincense spoke of the purity that God would provide for us through the sacrifice of Yahshua.
(3) The selem, or peace offering, was offered as a spontaneous expression of praise to Yahweh, as a way to express one’s thanksgiving for answered prayer, to underscore the seriousness of a vow, or as a freewill offering to show one’s devotion.
(4) The chata’t, or sin offering, was brought by the guilty party when he became aware of his transgression, to the priest to be sacrificed. Blood sacrifices like the chata’t speak of atonement for sin, for the life is in the blood.
(5) The asham, or trespass offering, was to be provided for our “mistakes,” our offenses in holiness (as the chata’t covers our “sins,” our lapses in behavior).
(6) The nesek, or drink offering, was wine offered up in conjunction with any animal sacrifice, whether an olah, selem, chata’t, or asham. It would accompany the grain component that was mixed with oil, and there was to be the same amount of wine as there was oil. All four Gospels tie it directly to the blood of Yahshua that was poured out for us at Calvary.
(7) The bekor, or firstborn offering, indicated that the firstborn male of every Israelite family belonged to Yahweh, as well as every firstborn animal. The slain firstborn males were a metaphor for Yahweh’s own “firstborn,” who would be slain to save men from the consequences of their own transgressions.
All of these sacrifices were administered by priests—male descendents of Moses’ brother Aaron. These priests were (like most everything else in the Torah) prophetic of our Messiah, who was said to be a priest not of the Aaronic line, but of the order of Melchizedek (see Psalm 110:4). So the function of cleansing has now been inherited by, and transferred to, Yahshua: “Since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:21-22) An “evil conscience” is what poor old Lady Macbeth was struggling with—the sure knowledge that she was indeed guilty, even if no one on earth would be able to punish her for her crime. Her conscience was telling her the same thing Paul told the Corinthians: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” This is not a comprehensive no-no list. I’m sure we can include murderers like Lady Macbeth in there (well, we could if she weren’t a fictional character), as well as those who practice whatever it is you and I are guilty of. “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (I Corinthians 6:9-11)
God’s purification is beginning to sound like a “get out of jail free” card, but it’s not, not really. Yes, Yahshua’s blood cleanses us; the purifying water of the Holy Spirit welling up within us makes us clean before God. But Yahweh doesn’t cleanse us unless we choose to submit to His cleansing. We have a part to play in this. Yahweh says, “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before My eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. Come now, let us reason together, says Yahweh: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:16-18) Like the prodigal son in the parable, we must choose to turn around and return to our Father. His grace is sufficient for all our trespasses, but He won’t force us to accept it. It’s up to us to make the first move.
We who have accepted God’s offer of cleansing have, by doing so, “removed the evil of our deeds from before Yahweh’s eyes.” Put another way, we have been called out of the world, betrothed as the bride of our Messiah and King. So Paul’s admonition to husbands is actually based on what Yahshua has done for us: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church [literally, the “called-out”] and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-27) Several words are used here to convey the idea of being made clean by Yahshua and thus made worthy to be in His presence (remarkably, not as subjects or slaves, but as His honored bride). (1) “Sanctify” is the Greek verb hagiazo, meaning to render someone holy (that is, set apart for God); to separate from profane things and dedicate to God; to purify, either externally or internally—i.e., by expiation, removing the guilt of sin and renewing the soul. (2) “Cleansed” is the Greek katharizo, a verb meaning to make clean, to cleanse, either from physical stains or dirt or in a moral sense—to free from the defilement of sin and wickedness. This is the word one would use to describe being cured of leprosy: to pronounce clean in a Levitical sense (leprosy itself being a symbol of sin and its guilt). (3) “Washing” is loutron, the Greek noun used to denote a bath, bathing or washing, or by extension, the laver or basin in which the water for washing is held. These are the things Yahshua’s love accomplishes on our behalf.
On the negative side, (1) a “spot” is a spilos—a fault, moral blemish, stain, or blot. A related word (spilas) denotes a dangerous rock, ledge, or reef in the sea, and hence is metaphorical of people who “shipwreck” others in a moral sense. (2) The word translated “wrinkle” is the Greek noun rhutis, used only this once in scripture. It’s apparently derived from the verb rhupoo, meaning to make filthy, to defile, or to soil. Finally, (3) “blemish” is momos, a noun denoting blame, fault, blemish, disgrace, a blot on one’s character, or an insult. These are the things Christ’s love and sacrifice prevents in the life of His people.
Technically, Israel is not coterminous with the ekklesia (the “church”). That is, although the ekklesia, the body and bride of Christ, includes both gentile and Jewish believers, Yahweh has a separate destiny planned for Israel as a nation. The prophetic fact is that Israel’s inevitable national epiphany reconciling them to their God and His Messiah will not occur until after the ekklesia has been removed from the earthly scene (in the event commonly referred to as “the rapture”). The belatedly restored remnant of Israel will be, as unlikely as it sounds considering the current state of geopolitical affairs, the premier nation in the post-apocalyptic world—the last and only superpower during Yahshua’s Millennial Kingdom. But the picture of God’s cleansing through the agency of water will be as germane to Israel in the coming age as it is to the ekklesia in the current one. In a clearly Millennial passage, the prophet Zechariah writes, “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” (Zechariah 13:1) This isn’t purely metaphorical, either. There are actually going to be two rivers, flowing east and west from beneath the new temple in Jerusalem. They’re described in the following chapter: “On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter.” (Zechariah 14:8) The amazing life-giving properties of these rivers are pictured in detail by Ezekiel: “Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes…. And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.” (Ezekiel 47:9, 12) Once again, we see God’s river bringing not only the water of spiritual cleansing, but life itself.
Satan (our adversary) would like us to believe that water’s cleansing, life-giving properties are not a gift from God to us, nor do we owe Him our thanks or allegiance. He would have us suppose that we are both alive and clean (or at least clean enough) without Yahweh. But during the coming Tribulation Yahweh will allow mankind to experience a not-so-subtle reminder of how vital this gift of life and cleansing really is. “The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter.” (Revelation 8:10-11) A big sulfur-rich asteroid breaking up in the earth’s atmosphere would have precisely that effect. I believe (for reasons I hinted at earlier in this chapter) that Yahshua’s Millennial Kingdom will commence in the autumn of 2033. It should be of some interest, then, that just such an asteroid is scheduled for a “razor-burn” fly-by with earth on April 13, 2029. Of course, my “intel” is two thousand years old, and NASA now swears it’s going to miss, but you have to at least wonder. Don’t let the fact bother you that the verb rendered “fell” here (pipto) can mean “to be thrust down” (as in: it had help). My point is not that the 99942 Apophis asteroid has to be the fulfillment of the prophecy; it’s that the earth’s supply of fresh water exists at Yahweh’s discretion—both metaphorically and literally.
Cleansing comes about neither by our own efforts nor by wishful thinking nor by self-declaration. Solomon asks, “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?” (Proverbs 20:9) Along the same lines, Agur notes: “There are those who are clean in their own eyes but are not washed of their filth.” (Proverbs 30:12) Only Yahweh can define purity; only He can make us clean.