Summary: The Old Testament Law was very strict about how the people of Israel were to clease themselves... but the bronze laver was only used by the priests. What can that mean for Christians today?
OPEN: Years ago I went to the a seminar for preachers put on by a local hospital. In part, the seminar was an attempt on their part to show appreciation for our ministry to their patients. But they also went over various items that would make our ministry more effective. Amongst the topics they covered that day was basic hygiene. They explained that the simple practice of washing hands was often overlooked by visitors. Even Doctors and nurses sometimes would forget to simply wash their hands. But, they explained, hand washing was essential for protecting the health of patients from infection. They taught us that the best way to wash your hands at a hospital is to use soap and then scrub your hands for 10 seconds (mentally counting to 10) before washing away the suds and drying our hands. Essentially, they were telling preachers - cleanliness is next to Godliness.
The seminar ended and it was time for our meal at the hospital. Several of us went into the bathroom, and as I was at the sink washing my hands I heard a voice nearby:
“1… 2… 3… 4…”
Cleanliness IS next to Godliness.
But hospitals haven’t always practiced that principle.
ILLUS: Back in the 1840’s, one of the world famous medical centers was in Vienna Austria. If you had a medical problem – this was the Mayo clinic of the day.
But they had a problem. In their maternity wards, women were dying at the frightening rate of 1 in 6 pregnant women (about 20%). Doctors of the day felt the death rate was due to delayed lactation, excessive fear, or poisonous air.
But then a young doctor named Ignaz Semmelweis arrived and was placed in charge of the maternity ward. He was troubled by the death rate and decided to observe that the women who were examined by the doctors and medical staff became sick and died much more often than the women who were not examined.
He traced the behavior of their doctors back to the autopsy room. Apparently, before going to the maternity ward, these doctors often went to the morgue and examined bodies of people who’d died in the previous 24 hours. Immediately afterward – without washing their hands – the medical staff visited pregnant mothers and would do pelvic exams.
Sensing a connection, Dr. Semmelweis instituted a strict policy: any medical student or doctor who’d visited the morgue was required to carefully wash their hands before visiting the maternity ward. Mortality rates immediately went down only 1 out of every 42 mothers died. (a little over 2% death rate compared to the nearly 20% previously).
When this policy was applied hospital wide… other death rates came down as well.
And what the response of the medical staff? They howled in protest – they scorned him, belittled him, and eventually fired him.
When he was hired at another hospital in Budapest, he obtained the same results for patients… and encountered the same rejection by the medical staff. Eventually he ended up in an insane asylum because the obvious remedy for these mothers was rejected and the death rate rose again to their previous levels.
None of These Diseases by S.I. McMillen, M.D. pp 24-26
It took decades before the medical community embraced the simple idea: Washing hands was the best way to control infections.
Yet, 3000 years before Semmelweis was born God taught His people the importance of being clean. In Numbers 19 God told His people that anyone who touched a dead person would be unclean for 7 days, and part of the process of becoming clean again was:
“The person being cleansed must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and that evening he will be clean.” Numbers 19:19
In other words: Cleanliness WAS next to Godliness.
In Exodus 30 we’re introduced to another kind of Biblical cleansing. This cleansing took place at something called the brazen laver or bronze basin. (Show picture of “Brazen Laver”).
For those of you who weren’t here for the previous sermons, the Tabernacle was a tent –like structure inside of an enclosed courtyard. The first thing you’d see when entering the courtyard was the altar of sacrifice. Then – between the altar and the door of the tabernacle.
Exodus 30:20-21 tells us that
“Whenever they enter the Tent of Meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also, when they approach the altar to minister by presenting an offering made to the LORD by fire, they shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die. This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants for the generations to come."
In other words – before the priests were allowed to do any service for God they were required to stop at the brazen laver and wash their hands and feet.