For the Jewish people there were three viewpoints towards sin. A person’s sin could be committed with an unintentional heart, or that person’s sin could have been intentional or there sin could have be done in a defiant way. There were many ways that a person could become unclean. (Leviticus 11 – 15) In the course of daily life it will be impossible for a person to not become unclean. This sin was considered to be unintentional. Because the punishment for Adam’s sin was death, we his ancestors are also under that same punishment. In the Old Testament times when a person sinned they become unclean before the Lord and had to make themselves clean by a special ceremony and a sacrifice.
If a person sinned intentionally that person had sinned on purpose. An example would be to commit murder. That person knew that it was wrong to commit murder and yet went ahead and did the act anyway. That person would have to ask God to forgive them as there was no sacrifice for an intentional sin.
If a person sinned defiantly this was blasphemy towards God. God could not offer His forgiveness because that person would not repent and the punishment was death.
It is easy for us to understand why sins that are intentional and defiant are wrong. God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses and these laws are about these types of sin. (Exodus 20:1-17) These Ten Commandments are to be obeyed by all people at all times in their life. Unintentional sins are a little bit harder to understand because they do not have a natural explanation are were for the Jewish people exclusively.
An example of an unintentional sin would be that the Jew was not allowed to touch a dead body. To touch a dead body would make one unclean before the Lord and they had to make themselves clean before they could be in His presence. Chapter 19 describes what they would have to do if they became unclean by an unintentional sin. To become clean they had to perform a ceremony and a sacrifice. There are some differences in the procedures of the rituals.
Instead of a male animal the animal was female. The people killed the animal outside of the camp instead of in front of God’s Tent. At a regular sacrifice the priest would kill the animal in front of God’s Tent but here an ordinary person would kill the animal and do it outside of the camp. The blood was not collected and poured onto the altar but was burned with the rest of the animal.
The priest would put cedar wood, hyssop and red wool into the fire when they made their offering to God. These were the things that the people used to make themselves clean. (Leviticus 14:1-17; Leviticus 14:48-53) The ceremony was of great importance and the priest had to wash their bodies and their clothes afterward. This was because they too had to wash away the sins they had come into contact with. (Psalms 51:2; Jeremiah 2:22)
Then the ashes were placed outside of the camp and made ready for the people to mix with their water. They used the ashes in the ceremony as described in verses 11-12.
The first part of this chapter has explained how to prepare the special water and ashes. If a person touched a dead body they would be unclean until they had purified themselves. It would not be possible for the Israelite people to not touch a dead body. There were thousands of people in their camps both young and old. In the course of life people die.
Once a person touched a dead body they would have to follow the instructions to become clean again. It was a very serious matter as an unclean person defiled God’s Tent. Not following these instructions was not something that someone should do. Until they had cleaned themselves they were unclean and anything that they touched also became unclean and because of them the whole camp could become unclean. If one refused to follow the instructions for cleaning they would be put out of the camp and even put to death.
Even if they were people who were living in a tent when someone had died they too were unclean. And people who had touched the grave of a dead person was considered unclean. All these people had to follow the instructions to become clean again. And even the one who splashed the water on an unclean person became unclean and that person had to wash their clothes and body also and then in the evening they would be clean.
Today we do not have to wash ourselves in a special way to come near to God. Jesus made that sacrifice for all of us and these ceremonies are no longer necessary. The blood of Jesus makes us clean in our hearts and our spirit. But we must believe Jesus for who He is and trust Him as our Lord. Jesus died as our sacrifice and we must believe that truth and trust Him. We must confess our sins with a contrite heart, turn away for our sins and not want to sin again. And we must allow Jesus to come into our life and live through us.