Clean (To Be) - Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old Testament Words

Usage Number: 1
Part Of Speech: Verb
Strong's Number: H2891
Original Word: taher
Usage Notes: "to be clean, pure." The root of this word appears over 200 times in various forms, as a verb, adjective, or noun.

Since the fall of Adam and Eve, none of their offspring is clean in the sight of the holy God: "Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin" (Prov. 20:9). Reminding Job that protestations of innocence are of no avail, Eliphaz asked: "Shall mortal man be more just than God Shall a man be more pure than his Maker" (Job 4:17).

There is hope, however, because God promised penitent Israel: "And I will cleanse them from all their iniquity, whereby they have sinned against me …" (Jer. 33:8). He said: "… I will save them out of all their dwelling places, wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them: so they shall be my people, and I will be their God" (Ezek. 37:23).

The baleful effect of sin was recognized when a person contracted the dread disease of leprosy. After the priest diagnosed the disease, he could declare a person "clean" only after cleansing ceremonies had been performed: "… And he shall wash his clothes, also he shall wash his flesh in water, and he shall be clean" (Lev. 14:9).

God required that His people observe purification rites when they came into His presence for worship. On the Day of Atonement, for example, prescribed ceremonies were performed to "cleanse" the altar from "the uncleanness of the children of Israel" and to "hallow it" (Lev. 16:17-19; cf. Exod. 29:36ff.). The priests were to be purified before they performed their sacred tasks. Moses was directed to "take the Levites … and cleanse them" (Num. 8:6; cf. Lev. 8:5-13). After they had been held captive in the unclean land of Babylon, "…the priests and the Levites purified themselves, and purified the people, and the gates, and the wall [of the rebuilt city of Jerusalem]" (Neh. 12:30).

Cleansing might be achieved by physically removing the objects of defilement. During the reform of King Hezekiah, "the priests went into the inner part of the house of the Lord, to cleanse it, and brought out all the uncleanness that they found in the temple of the Lord …" (2 Chron. 29:16). Some rites required blood as the purifying agent: "And he shall sprinkle of the blood upon it [the altar] with his finger seven times, and cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel" (Lev. 16:19). Sacrifices were offered to make atonement for a mother after childbirth: "…she shall bring…the one for the burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering: and the priest shall make an atonement for her, and she shall be clean" (Lev. 12:8).

Usage Number: 2
Part Of Speech: Adjective
Strong's Number: H2889
Original Word: tahôr
Usage Notes: "clean; pure." The word denotes the absence of impurity, filthiness, defilement, or imperfection. It is applied concretely to substances that are genuine or unadulterated, as well as describing an unstained condition of a spiritual or ceremonial nature.

Gold is a material frequently said to be free of baser ingredients. Thus the ark of the covenant, the incense altar, and the porch of the temple were "overlaid with pure gold" (Exod. 25:11; Exod. 37:11, 26; 2 Chron. 3:4). Some of the furnishings and utensils in the temple, such as the mercy seat, the lampstand, the dishes, pans, bowls, jars, snuffers, trays, were of "pure gold" (Exod. 37:6, 16-24). The high priest's vestment included "two chains of pure gold" and "a plate of pure gold" (Exod. 28:14, 22, 36).

God demands that His people have spiritual and moral purity, unsullied by sin. Anyone not clean of sin is subject to divine rejection and punishment. This contamination is never outgrown or overcome. Because sin pollutes one generation after another, Job asks: "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean" (Job 14:4). All outward appearances to the contrary, it cannot be said that there is "one event…to the clean, and to the unclean" (Eccl. 9:2). Hope is available even to the chief of sinners, because any man can entreat the mercy of God and say: "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me" (Psa. 51:10).

In sharp contrast with mankind's polluted nature and actions, "the words of the Lord are pure words…" (Psa. 12:6). The Lord is "of purer eyes than to behold evil" (Hab. 1:13). "Clean" most frequently describes the purity maintained by avoiding contact with other human beings, abstaining from eating animals, and using things that are declared ceremonially clean. Conversely, cleansing results if ritual procedures symbolizing the removal of contamination are observed.

The people of the old covenant were told that "he that toucheth the dead body of any man shall be unclean seven days" (Num. 19:11). A priest was not to defile himself "for the dead among his people" except "for his kin, that is near unto him" (Lev. 21:1-2). This relaxation of the rule was even denied the high priest and a Nazarite during "all the days that he separateth himself unto the Lord" (Num. 6:6ff.).

Cleaning rituals emphasized the fact that the people were conceived and born in sin. Though conception and birth were not branded immoral (just as dying itself was not sinful), a woman who had borne a child remained unclean until she submitted to the proper purification rites (Lev. 12). Chapter 15 of Leviticus prescribes ceremonial cleansing for a woman having her menstrual flow, for a man having seminal emissions, and for "the woman also with whom man shall lie with seed of copulation" (Lev. 15:18).

To be ceremonially "clean," the Israelite also had to abstain from eating certain animals and even from touching them (Lev. 11; Deut. 14:3-21). After the Israelites settled in the Promised Land, some modifications were made in the regulations (Deut. 12:15, 22; Deut. 15:22).

Purification rites frequently involved the use of water. The person to be cleansed was required to wash himself and his clothes (Lev. 15:27). Water was sprinkled on the individual, on his tent, and on all its furnishings: "And a clean person shall take hyssop, and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it upon the tent, and upon all the vessels, and upon the persons that were there, and upon him that touched a bone, or the slain, or one dead, or a grave" (Num. 19:18). Sometimes the person being cleansed also had to change garments (Lev. 6:11). However, the rites were not meritorious deeds, earning God's favor and forgiveness. Nor did the ceremonies serve their intended purpose if performed mechanically. Unless the rites expressed a person's contrite and sincere desire to be cleansed from the defilement of sin, they were an abomination to God and only aggravated a person's guilt. Anyone who appeared before Him in ritual and ceremony with "hands…full of blood" (Isa. 1:15) and did not plead for cleansing of his crimes was judged to be as wicked as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Zion's hope lay in this cleansing by means of an offering: "And they shall bring all your brethren for an offering unto the Lord out of all nations upon horses…as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of the Lord" (Isa. 66:20).

Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old Testament Words