You shall have a designated area outside the camp to which you shall go. With your utensils you shall have a trowel; when you relieve yourself outside, you shall dig a hole with it and then cover up your excrement. Because the Lord your God travels along with your camp, to save you and to hand over your enemies to you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you (Deuteronomy 23:12-14, New Revised Standard Version).
I admit, it is a strange passage, but I am not the one to put it into my brain. Last week, while driving back to Sweeny from Lakeview Methodist Conference CenterI was listening to a book titled, Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say by Rev. Adam Hamilton and it has been bouncing around in my head ever since. I believe Hamilton brought this verse up during chapter 4, “God Said, I Believe It, That Settles It.”
Because I have read the Bible all the way through, I know I have read this passage at least a few times but honestly, I don’t remember it. It left no impression on me at all. I read it and moved on and nothing about it stuck with me, until I was driving home last Thursday. Hearing what Hamilton wrote, I have thought and rethought these three verses several times.
In the book, Hamilton said, “You most likely have never heard a sermon on this passage (I am paraphrasing here). I would say, he was right. Not only do I not believe I ever heard a sermon on this passage, I am positive I have never written or preached one.
Hamilton went on to say it easily could have been very different in the mid to late 19th century. Indoor plumbing was coming into its own. Homes were starting to get this convenience and many people thought the churches should get the convenience as well. After all, during New England winters or Texas summers, going to the outhouse was probably pretty brutal. Hamilton explained that this passage was often used by pastors as justification for not installing indoor plumbing. It is said the preachers would say the passage was proof that God didn’t want indoor plumbing in churches, that God intended everyone to go outside. After all, they were to “…designate an area OUTSIDE the camp…” I can’t help but think this might have carried a literal reading of the scriptures a bit too far. I, for one, am thankful for indoor plumbing.
Hamilton’s use of this passage did get me to thinking. I have thought a great deal about it since hearing that chapter. For a while I was thinking that perhaps I was supposed to preach a sermon on the passage, but I decided against it. I really don’t want to explain excrement to young ears that might be present. The more I thought about it the more I thought, a blog post might be the better way to go. At least to me, it just made more sense.
No, I am not going to write about burying something in a whole in the ground. I am not going to write about going outside the camp to take care of things. No, my thoughts haven’t been about anything quite so literal.
Here is the thing, the passage talks about going outside the camp because God lived and moved in the camp, making the camp holy. So, I got to thinking about where God lives today. Where is that holy place today. Some might make the argument that God lives in the Church. And, at least to a degree that would be true. After all, God is omnipresent so God is everywhere, including our churches (Lord I pray that is true).
I think our comparison would need to be something closer to home. I can’t help but think of Revelation 3:20, “Look! I’m standing at the door and knocking. If any hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to be with them, and will have dinner with them, and they will have dinner with me (Common English Bible).” God’s home, God’s residence is within us.
So, what is within our “camp,” within us that God would call indecent? Remember, the passage says, “…your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you…”
I started compiling a list in my head. On that list would have to be “sexual immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, idolatry, drug use and casting spells, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, jealousy, drunkenness, partying, and other things like that. I warn you as I have already warned you, that those who do these kinds of things won’t inherit God’s kingdom.” OK, I know, it really isn’t my list, its Paul’s. Paul wrote these words in Galatians 5:19-21 (Common English Bible). And, I seriously doubt it is an all-inclusive list.
These are things all of us need to put behind us. We need to bury these things in the past and move forward with God dwelling inside us. And, if we bury them in the past and leave them there, God won’t see “…anything indecent among [us]” or I would submit, within us. Without all that mess in our lives we will be living holy and keeping our camp holy.
Sometimes I think God can and does use the unusual to speak to us, even a Scripture passage about literal stuff we need to leave behind so we might leave some of the things behind that block the Spirit within us from leading us in the holy direction God wants us to go.
So, take your trowel, did a hole, and leave the junk behind in favor of a stronger, better relationship with God.
I pray you have a blessed day with the Lord.
Grace and Peace,
Copyright 2016, James “Keith” Broyles, All Rights Reserved.