Filthy Rags

April 1st, 2018 Adia Taliaferro

Understand that every law that God gave the Israelites to keep was supposed to cause them to reflect on how much they needed the Messiah as their Savior and a personal saving relationship with God… Read why.

Hello everyone! I’m back. I’m sorry for having missed posting that past three Sundays. I have had problems with my computer. But, nevertheless I am able to post now. Never thought, in a million years, when I was a kid that my life would be dependent upon ownership or having convenience to a computer. I laugh at times when my elementary school teachjers wouldn’t let students use calculators to do math, giving the reason that we wouldn’t have one available to use in real everyday life when we became adults. Now we’re living in the age of Inspector Gadget where our phones are computers and cameras, with calculators included. Kids today will never understand how prophetically epic that cartoon was. Sigh. Welp. Anyway. Moving along and getting back to blogging. LOL!
We had been discussing what it means to have the righteousness of Christ. There is a Bible verse that has always annoyed me regarding the comparison of righteousness to unrighteousness, until writing this blog post. It is Isaiah 64:6 which reads, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” Most people may ask the question, “Why has that annoyed you Adia?” Well, because of what Isaiah was referring to as “filthy rags.” He wasn’t talking about typical laundry that needed to be washed. He was referring to a white cloth that Jewish women used to absorb blood while on their period. The word filthy is a translation of the Hebrew word iddah, which literally means “the bodily fluids from a woman’s menstrual cycle.” The word rags is a translation of the word begged, meaning “a rag or garment.”

The reason this has annoyed me is because the Bible has historically been used to bash and undermine women. So when Isaiah uses this analogy as the worst possible thing that he could think of to describe what our unrighteousness is like, it seems to give validity to misogyny. This verse led me to do some deeper study on why Isaiah chose to compare a woman’s menstruation cloth with unrighteousness. I decided to read the Levitical laws regarding menstruation to see what understanding I could gain into this verse. I put my pride to the side and asked the Holy Spirit to reveal to me what He wanted me to understand from Isaiah 64:6 in connection to the purity laws regarding menstruation. What the Holy Spirit revealed to me was quite eye opening and insightful as to why our unrighteousness or self-righteous works are like filthy rags.
Understand that every law that God gave the Israelites to keep was supposed to cause them to reflect on how much they needed the Messiah as their Savior and a personal saving relationship with God. These laws were put in place to help them see that they could not save themselves, and every one of them in some way was a foreshadowing of Christ’s coming. So what you might be thinking is.” “How in the world does a law regarding menstruation reveal the person of Christ?” Glad you asked.
To see this awesomeness, first think about why death occurs. It is a result of sin and sin makes us unclean in the eyes of God. Death is the ultimate state of being unclean. Why? When a person is soiled with something they are considered unclean or filthy. Anytime symbolism of something being soiled in the Bible is used, it represents sin. Sin results in death just as being soiled results in being unclean. We are separated from God because of our sin. Isaiah 59:2 says, “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” The Hebrew term used for menstruation in Leviticus 15:19, 20, 24, and 33 is niddatah, which has as its root ndh, a word meaning “separation,” usually as a result of impurity. It is connected to the root ndd, meaning “to make distant.” Jewish women are called “a niddah” during their monthly cycle. This primary meaning of the root was extended in the biblical corpus to include concepts of sin and impurity.
When a person is unclean with sin they cannot exist in the presence of God without a change of state. One of two things will happen; they will either die or become clean. Women being separated for their monthly was not God ostracizing them as if they were hygienically dirty, but rather it served as an object lesson of what sin does—it brings death. It also illustrates how God redeems us from sin through Christ. Paul mentions death as the first thing in Romans 8:38 that cannot separate us from the love of God. But listen, the only reason that death cannot separate us from the love of Christ is because Christ took on death and overcame it. By legal right according to the law, death is supposed to keep us separated from God. The word says the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. But since Jesus fulfilled our death penalty, having never sinned, death could not legally keep Him because He had never committed any sin. (Acts 2:22-36)
This law was not supposed to make a woman feel shamed by God, but rather give hope and cause them to grow in deep relationship with God. The time of separation should have been a time of reflection for hope in the soon to come Savior that would die for them and then reunite them to the Father. This time of menstruation should have been an experience of how Christ would feel while He fulfilled His purpose on earth. When we share in the experiences of Christ, it is what draws us to him in relationship.
Christ lived among His people who He loved dearly but was crucified by them. He felt ostracized and alone mostly. He became sin and died in our place, experiencing the excruciating pain of dying and feeling forsaken. His physical pain did not compare to the mental and emotional turmoil that occurred. But right before He died he knew that His work was accomplished. He experienced the eternal separation that death brings if someone is not saved, because of the law of sin and death. He shed this flesh and received a new life of immortality. The flesh He shed is what brings death—life without the power of the Holy Spirit. After His resurrection He gave us the Holy Spirit to comfort us. Because of His life He was reunited with the Father again and was able to give the baptism of His Spirit for us to live in His power.
Likewise the Israelite women would leave the camp and be separated from those they love. They could not go into the temple at all to be in the presence of God. They felt ostracized and unclean because they were experiencing a death process. They would experience the physical pain of death in their bodies during this time that us women today experience, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they experienced the emotional distress that accompanies as well. It’s just part of the process. Death brings physical pain, emotional and mental instability. The womb is a place to bear fruit and fruit is a gift of the Spirit. Our righteousness can only come by Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. When an ovum is fertilized it represents the life in the power of the Spirit. However, when it dies and is shed with the uterine lining, it represents the flesh without the life of the Spirit. It is death and it soiled their garments. This flesh soiled garment represents self-righteous works and not works of the Spirit—works of death and not works of life. Christ crucified the garments of flesh and made available to us garments of righteousness in the Spirit.
Once a woman’s cycle is done, their womb has a fresh and new regenerated lining that eventually becomes receptive to the implantation of an embryo. After each woman’s cycle ended they had to count off seven days to make sure that they were no longer bleeding. Immediately following this period they took a bath called a mikveh. It is a ceremonial bath for purity, representative of a spiritual cleansing from being unclean and is considered a type of baptism. Water is a symbol of the Holy Spirit and He is the one who baptizes us and gives us new life in Christ by regeneration. Baptism is a symbol of dying to an old life and living a new life in Christ. This purging was representative of them putting off all kinds of death—spiritual death due to any sin and putting off dead works of one trying to save themself. It was a lesson of the restoration Christ would bring to Israel. God was trying to show the children of Israel that they needed Him to purify them from sin. It could not happen through them keeping laws in their own strength. So, menstruation is not necessarily considered unclean because of disease or because women are hygienically filthy during this time; it is considered unclean because menstruation is a form of death. And death is a result of sin that separates us from God. God is not a God of death; He is the God of life and death cannot exist in His presence.
As the women would dunk in the mikveh they would recite a blessing over themselves thanking God for sanctifying them. After this they would return to their loved ones, just as Christ did after His resurrection and then ascended to His Father 40 days later. (Acts 1:3; Corinthians 15:6). The mikveh represented the women now being separated unto God instead of being separated from Him.
There is one last nugget I want to share with you that I just can’t end this post without sharing. The womb is place of life. We as women are life givers and nurturers of humanity like Jesus is the Life Giver because He is life itself. Fertilization then represents life in Christ by the Spirit. If an ovum is never fertilized, it dies. However, if it is fertilized it matures into a baby that is birthed and has potential to live the life of Christ. So ladies what does that say about us? We should never minister death to anything or anyone in any kind of way. We should never speak words of death for any reason. Everything that comes from us should be life giving. The only death that we should participate in is death to our carnal man—self.
In closing, only the blood of Jesus can bring life. This is why Isaiah said “our righteousness is as filthy rags.” It is nothing but dead works. We need the blood of Jesus for His righteousness for works that bring and give life. Our blood soils and defiles garments. His blood makes them clean. He makes us clean. Meditate on the song “Clean” by Natalie Grant.

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