How can we benefit from learning more about dung in the Bible? How can we appreciate Luke 18:9-14 better by exploring a cultural difference and the background? Why would these subjects together offer greater stimulation and growth in our lives?
THE WEAKNESS OF POLITE DISCRETENESS
We tend to be very discreet when talking about…the product of our visits to the bathroom. It is a topic generally avoided…the Bible’s authors…quite to the contrary…human and animal waste products are mentioned more often than we might expect in both literal and figurative contexts, though they often go unrecognized because our English translations have used more polite language that obscures their presence. While we honor the choice of those translators, we also acknowledge the unintended…softening of the rhetorical impact of those metaphors.Zondervan Dictionary of Biblical Imagery
The wise poet knows of those who are pure in their own eyes but who in reality “are not cleansed of their filth” (Proverbs 30:12). And the divine poet gets very graphic in discussing the fall of Jerusalem, indicating…divine judgment because “…her filthiness clung to her skirts” (Lamentations 1:9). Nevertheless, Isaiah sees a time coming when the “Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion” (Isaiah 4:4), a forgiveness that marks a new age.Zondervan Dictionary of Biblical Imagery
The Bible’s mention of literal dung falls into two categories: human and animal waste. Old Testament law directs that human waste be removed from populated areas and buried in a discreet spot (Deuteronomy 23:13)…. Animal manure did not carry the same cultural stigma. It was useful for those who wished to build a fire or fertilize their fields. Wood was a very scarce commodity…so rarely used as fuel for a fire…. To this day in the less-developed areas of Israel, we find people gathering manure…mixing in salt, and forming flat, combustible pancakes used for cooking fires. The addition of salt allows the charcoal pancake to burn even more effectively…. When Jesus spoke about salt that had lost its saltiness being unfit for the manure pile, this is the cultural reality he had in view (Luke 14:35).Zondervan Dictionary of Biblical Imagery
BACKGROUND TO LUKE 18:9-14
In our parable, paying the tithe is specifically mentioned. In the eyes of a strict Pharisee, the most obvious candidate for the classification of am-haaretz would be a tax collector. Furthermore, there was a particular type of uncleanness that was contracted by sitting, riding, or even leaning against something unclean…. With this background in mind, it is little wonder that the Pharisee wanted to stand aside from the rest of the other worshipers…. Physical isolation, from his point of view, would be a statement and an important one at that…the problem of the proud man standing aloof in worship was a contemporary problem. One of the intertestamental books called the Assumption of Moses gives us an illuminating illustration…has some very sharp things to say about the leadership of the nation during the time of the unknown author. These “impious rulers” … “speak great things” …Thus Jesus is not portraying a caricature but a reality most likely known to his audience.Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes
CULTURAL DIFFERENCE IN LUKE 18:9-14
The accepted posture for prayer was to cross the hands over the chest and keep the eyes cast down (Edersheim, Temple, 156). But this man’s crossed arms do not remain immobile. Rather he beats on his chest. This dramatic gesture is still used in villages all across the Middle East from Iraq to Egypt. The hands are closed into fists that are then struck on the chest in rapid succession. The gesture is used in times of extreme anguish or intense anger. It never occurs in the Old Testament, and appears only twice in the Gospels, both times in Luke. The remarkable feature of this particular gesture is the fact that it is characteristic of women, not men. After 20 years of observation I have found only one occasion in which Middle Eastern men are accustomed to beat on their chests…. Women customarily beat on their chests at funerals, but men do not…. It is little wonder that in all of biblical literature we find this particular gesture mentioned only here and at the cross (Luke 23:48)…. Why the chest? ….is a profound recognition of the truth…that “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder…theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19).
THE LOVE OF SIN
Gratitude, not guilt. This thought in this and my last blog needs completion with an unpleasant topic. We have two obstacles hindering our service to come from gratitude, and not guilt. One is getting our eyes off Jesus, and the other is our love of sin.
Have you ever wondered whether Jesus was tempted exactly like us? James 1:13-14 says God doesn’t tempt us, but our own sinful desires entice us. Jesus didn’t have a sinful nature to contend with. Consider: Do you feel regularly tempted to murder? I hope you focus on loving people enough that you don’t. Jesus got the same tempting ideas as us, but he passionately hated all sin. So for him, there was no indecision. He just struggled (intensely at times), especially in Gethsemane and on the cross. His holiness commitment preserved him, though, as holiness is inherent in his nature.
Be encouraged: if the fact that you love your sin actually bothers you, this is a start. We must cultivate hatred of sin by dwelling on the word, praying for God’s help, and carefully choosing our friends. And praise God, he’s also on our side!