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Deuteronomy: The Second Law - Speech 6

A commentary on the sixth speech of Moses in Deuteronomy 21-23. The book of Deuteronomy is a series of 12 speeches that Moses gave just before his death at the end of Israel's wilderness journey.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Chapter 18

The Laws of Dung

In Deut. 23:12-14 Moses deals with the laws of dung. This law, of course, had a practical purpose insofar as sanitation was concerned, but our main concern is to uncover the mind of God in this matter.

12 You shall also have a place outside the camp and go out there, 13 and you shall have a spade among your tools, and it shall be when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and shall turn to cover up your excrement. 14 Since the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp to deliver you and to defeat your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy; and He must not see anything indecent among you lest He turn away from you.

Dung is food that the body has processed. As such, it represents the traditions of men. When a priest or teacher studies the word of God, or receives divine revelation by a direct word, he is said to be eating spiritual food. But when he teaches his own carnal understanding of that “food,” it is likened to dung.

Jesus distinguished between physical food and spiritual food in John 6:27, saying, “do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man shall give to you.” Likewise, the Apostle Paul said in 1 Cor. 3:1-3,

1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, 3 for you are still fleshly….

Again, he says in 1 Cor. 10:3 that the Israelites in the wilderness “all ate the same spiritual food.”

This is the “spiritual food” that we are all to eat even today. Teachers are also called to dispense that spiritual food to the students of the word. The problem comes when the teachers eat the good food of God, but then dispense dung to their students. In other words, they eat the word, but teach the traditions of men, which is their uninspired understanding of the word.

Isaiah Defines Dung

The priests of Israel and Judah were doing this in the days of Isaiah, for Jesus quotes the prophet and then tells the Pharisees in Mark 7:7-13,

7 But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the traditions of men. 8 Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men… 13 thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition, which you have handed down…

Jesus interpreted these traditions to be mere dung. He also told his disciples that hearing such teachings did not defile them, as long as those doctrines passed through them and ended up on the dung pile. It only defiled them if they assimilated the dung and if it then came out of their mouths (Mark 7:18-23).

Ezekiel Eats Food Cooked over Dung

Ezekiel, too, was told to illustrate this problem in a very graphic way when God told him to eat food cooked with dung. No doubt he used dung as a fuel for the fire, which, in any case, rendered the food as unclean as the dung which cooked it. The actual food which the prophet ate was good food (Ezekiel 4:9), but it was rendered unclean by the dung in verse 12,

12 And you shall eat it as a barley cake, having baked it in their sight over human dung. 13 Then the Lord said, “Thus shall the sons of Israel eat their bread unclean among the nations where I shall banish them.”

The divine purpose for Ezekiel’s show-and-tell was to reveal that the priests were teaching them the traditions of men, rather than the good food of the word. Although the priests ate the word, they processed it and then dispensed to the people their uninspired understanding of the word, which was dung. Ezekiel was required to tell them what they were doing, so that some may have had opportunity to break the dung fest.

The prophet’s message went unheeded, and so the laws of tribulation were invoked against them, sending them into captivity, where they would “eat their bread unclean among the nations.” This judgment is found also in the Laws of Tribulation in Deut. 28:64,

64 Moreover, the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, which you or your fathers have not known.

So we see that when Israel followed false gods, they were in violation of the Second Commandment, which deals with heart idolatry—that is, man’s misunderstanding of the character of God and His standard of holiness. God then judged them by withdrawing the Spirit of Truth from their midst (except for a remnant), so that they would continue serving other gods. When inspiration ceased, the people would eat unclean bread among the nations, as the prophet said in Ezekiel 4:13 (above).

We suffer even today from the residual effects of Israel’s heart idolatry. We will continue to suffer “until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high” (Isaiah 32:15). Pentecost has given us an earnest of that Spirit (2 Cor. 5:5), but many in the Church have rejected His Spirit for various reasons. The problem will not be fully resolved until that final outpouring under the anointing of the feast of Tabernacles.

The Proper Place for Dung

Dung has a divine purpose. It was not meant for food, but was rather meant to fertilize the ground in order to bring forth fruit. And so, when the nation of Judea was likened to a fig tree that did not bear fruit unto God, Jesus told a parable in Luke 13:6-9,

6 And He began telling this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it, and did not find any. 7 And he said to the vineyard keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’ 8 And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer [kopria, “dung; manure”]; 9 and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down’.”

Because God works all things together for good (Rom. 8:28), He knows how to use dung for a good purpose. Thus, when men dispense the dung of their heart idolatry, it can be beneficial, as long as we bury it outside the camp, rather than eat it.

In Mark 7 Jesus explained this principle to His disciples. In the first five verses of that chapter, the Pharisees had chided Jesus’ disciples for eating without first washing their hands. There was no law commanding men to wash their hands before eating, but it was a tradition based largely on the fact that Elisha “poured water on the hands of Elijah” (2 Kings 3:11).

There were laws of “baptisms” referenced in Heb. 6:2 and again in 9:10. In each case the Greek term baptismos is used to refer to the various washing ceremonies that were commanded by Moses. The priests baptized their hands and feet at the laver whenever they were about to enter the sanctuary (Exodus 30:18-20). Although there is no command for the people to baptize their hands before eating, the Pharisees had established this tradition of men (Mark 7:3). They criticized Jesus’ disciples, because they believed that they could be defiled by physical food if they did not undergo this purification ceremony before eating.

Jesus, in turn, chided the Pharisees for putting away the law of God through their traditions. Then He launched into a discussion about food and dung, saying in verses 14 and 15,

14 … Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside the man which going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.

In other words, eating food without first washing one’s hands does not defile any man, because eating physical food has nothing to do with spiritual defilement. Later, the disciples asked Him the meaning of this statement.

18 And He said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him; 19 because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) 20 And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these things proceed from within and defile the man.

In other words, physical food is eaten and then eliminated as dung. The body has its own natural purification process, eliminating that which is unclean. Spiritual food, on the other hand, does not produce dung when it is fully assimilated in the heart. The problem comes when spiritual food is not accompanied by revelation which alone can cause us to assimilate it and understand it. Those who eat spiritual food without properly digesting it will find themselves defiled by the traditions of men coming out of their mouths.

Even so, those who hear such teaching (dung) are not defiled by it, if they know how to bury it in the ground outside the camp. Such dung ought to be used as fertilizer. Everyone must retain the right to “chew the cud” according to the laws of eating clean spiritual food (Leviticus 11), for by this law we transform flesh into spiritual food that edifies.

Teachers also may inform their students about the traditions of men without defiling them. Such teaching is necessary so that students know the difference between those traditions and the true word of God. We do not really know anything, in fact, until we know its contrast. Truth cannot be understood unless one has been exposed to falsehood.

And so the law of dung in Deuteronomy 23 instructs us to bury dung outside the camp. Every believer ought to be equipped with a spiritual spade. If we follow this law, our camp will remain holy (23:14). Moses says that “the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp.” He does not want to step on dung.