Wednesday, January 17, 2007

That the Land May Not be Defiled

One thing I love about repeat readings is that there is always something new to glean from a truly good piece of literature. This is especially true of the Bible! There is so much beauty, truth, and goodness packed into that book, that one could not glean it all in a lifetime of diligent study!

Lew Wallace painted an especially poignant crucifixion scene at the end of Ben-Hur. I've read the Gospel accounts times untold, and I've seen many many visual dramatizations. Yet when I read Lew Wallace's account some weeks back, two previously-known details struck me with new force.

First, here the high-priest directs the centurion to make haste as Jesus and the two thieves are ready to be crucified:

"Bid the men make haste," said the high-priest to the centurion. "These" -- and he pointed to the Nazarene -- "must be dead by the going-down of the sun, and buried that the land may not be defiled. Such is the Law."

I've heard this notion before, so it was only reiterated to me when I read Ben-Hur. I know it is mentioned in the Gospels that Joseph of Arimathea makes haste to bury Jesus before the sun goes down, in preparation for the Sabbath, for example. But I would greatly appreciate any insight shed on the notion that the unburied dead would defile the land if left until sundown. I've heard that before, but I can't find it in the Gospels, or in a cursory glance at Leviticus. Help? Is "the Law" to which the high-priest refers the Mosaic law, or the Pharaseeical law, I wonder?

Regardless, I find it interesting to consider the irony of the high-priest's statement. He is essentially saying that a dead Jesus will defile the land (if not buried). Ponder that for a moment. In Genesis we learn that the creation was made good, but that with the fall came corruption and death. The curse of the fall extended to every facet of the creation, and our formerly-good earth is corrupt. . . and defiled. And man is responsible for this.

But God provided a cure for this corruption, and mercifully gave Adam and Eve a glimpse of this promise even as they had just fallen! To the serpent is threatened: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. The earth was defiled by the first Adam, but it was promised that it would be renewed and purified by the second Adam: Jesus Christ! Not only was Christ's body not a cause for the earth to be defiled after His death, but in fact it was the only hope for the earth to be purified! I love irony :-). I think the high-priest, sadly, was concerned about the wrong kind of defilement!

A second point of interest I gleaned from Lew Wallace's retelling of the crucifixion: I never really grasped the beautiful imagery of the crucifixion, as the earth was cloaked in darkness the three hours before Christ's death. In my mind in the past, the darkness was during and after Christ's death, as if the whole earth was mourning Christ's death. But that's not the image at all! We have a dark earth in the three hours before Christ's death, as He is in agony on the cross. It is as if the earth is weeping with Christ, and sympathizing in His sufferings. But as soon as He dies, consider what happens! The scriptures tell us it was dark until the ninth hour, when Christ died. This implies that at Christ's death, the earth was made light again. Christ's death brought back a physical light to the earth, just as it brought spiritual light to His sheep. What a beautiful, literal fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy:

The people who walked in
darkness have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of
deep darkness,
on them has light shined.


John Dekker said...

It's in Deuteronomy 21:22-23...

If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.

The defilement theme is an important one in the Gospels. Normally a man would defile himself by touching a leper, but Jesus is different - his purity (i.e. holiness) overcomes the leprosy.

Adrian C. Keister said...

Very good, John. I was going to talk about defiling yourself with a dead body like a Nazarite should not, and thus defiling the land. But obviously, the Deuteronomy quote is exact.

In Christ.

Susan said...

Thanks, John. That's just what I was looking for!

Anonymous said...

I had a nice comment here to this post. I even had written out the lyrics to the Handel's Messiah piece that goes with the scripture you quoted (because it was in my head since you mentioned it). I even did it with the inflections written out. That took a lot of time! Plus I just regular-commented on your post. And blogger ate it. All gone. And licked it's slimy lips. Mean ol' blogger...

Anonymous said...


I just did what I hate being done!!

I said it's when I meant to say its!!!!!

for shame, for shame!!

Susan said...

*deep empathy for Jessie*

I feel for you. . . deeply. And I feel sorry for myself, because I don't get to see your comment :-(. I'm sure it was wonderful! And I laughed at your "horror" about using "it's" wrong :-). That grammar rule was hammered into me as a child! But I forgive your careless slip. I'm such a nice friend. . .

Anonymous said...

Yes, Susan, you are such a nice friend.
*crying on your shoulder as you pat my head to console me*
You would've loved my comment, you're right. Sorry. :`(

Anonymous said...

BTW, I just "met" Grace True over on HSA... It was pretty funny. I got this New Friend Request stating are you Jessica *****, Susan's friend who I sent that recipe to?

And I said, "Why yes, I am!" It's a small world, isn't it : )

Susan said...

Hehe. How funny, Jessie :-). Yeah, Grace is on HA. So, did you let her be your friend????? The suspense is killing me. . .

Anonymous said...

Of course I did, Susan! Any friend of yours is a friend of mine : )