Discernment is the act of recognising the distinction between two categories.
Judgement is the act of recognising a preference between the two categories.
In the Biblical perspective, true and final judgement is God’s work, not ours.
Yet we may and must exercise our discernment, an obligation imposed by the lines of division between two categories which fill every part of the
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
There is the most fundamental division, right from the start.
On the one hand, the Creator. On the other hand, what was created.
Because creation has no independent existence, the relationship between the two is asymmetrical.
Beyond the initial distinction between God and the created world, there is a distinction within
the created world between what is, and what is
not, in line with God’s will.
And again this division is asymmetrical. The two sides of the boundary line do not have equal value. What is right (being God’s will) takes
precedence over what is not right, just as the Creator himself takes precedence over his created world..
The rest of the Bible is about the long project of bringing us back into harmony with God’s will.
One of the first steps in this journey is the re-discovery of the true boundary between good and evil, the boundary which follows God’s
That is the intended purpose of the Law. The Law provided by Moses fulfils that purpose imperfectly, but it serves to encourage people and train
people to look for
the difference between the two.
The fundamental distinction in the Law is between “treating people the right way” and “treating people the wrong way”, and I looked at the
social side of the Law in a previous series; God's Law
But the difference is also expressed in the ritual distinctions between “holy and unholy”, and between “clean and unclean”.
In a previous thread, I looked at the distinction (Leviticus ch11) between clean and unclean food-animals.
The following section of Leviticus shows how to distinguish between clean and unclean in matters of health, with particular reference (chs13&14) to
the problem of leprosy.
Physical symptoms are carefully described.
There is a skin condition- or, rather, a group of skin conditions. There may be white spots or swellings, which may spread through the skin and may
turn into raw flesh. As long as they are spreading, they are “unclean”, but once they cease to be infectious they may be declared “clean”.
But the same heading also includes itching diseases, and red spots on the scalp, and the moulds which may infect clothing and house walls.
So this is really about infection in general, rather than the specific disease labelled as “leprosy” by modern doctors.
The necessary discrimination between what is clean and what is unclean is to be made by the priests.
Of course, this is partly because the priests are the guardians of inherited knowledge.
At the same time, leprosy comes under priestly authority as a spiritual condition. I’ve even seen the suggestion that leprosy was purely a spiritual
state, but that over-simplifies the case. The detailed physical symptoms can’t be disregarded.
A truer statement would be that Biblical leprosy is a hybrid condition- a state of health with spiritual overtones.
It is not so much that bad health is regarded as the equivalent of sin.
It would be more true to say that bad health and sin are two different aspects of “not right”, both covered by the bridging concept of
Nowadays we treat them separately, but the association found in the Bible does serve one useful purpose.
The need to distinguish between the infectious and those free from infection sets up a distinction, and gets people’s minds into the habit of
looking for distinctions.
This, in turn, gets them trained into looking for the one distinction that really matters- the distinction between good and evil.
Another aspect of being “unclean”, often mentioned in the Bible, is having any kind of contact with the dead, whether touching a human corpse, or
eating an animal that has been found dead.
This is not just for reasons of hygiene.
The God of Israel abhors contact with the dead because he is a God of Life. That is why even mourning for the dead is to be avoided by those
approaching God, such as the priests; “None of them shall defile themselves for the dead… except for their nearest of kin”. (Leviticus ch21
So “clean or unclean” is one way of describing the difference between “right and not-right”. These ritual distinctions, trivial in themselves,
are analogues of the distinction between good and evil.
One implication which could be drawn is that ritual and even spiritual uncleanliness may be as “infectious” as the physical forms.
Haggai established this point, at least for ritual uncleanliness, by asking the priests of his time to make a ruling on two questions;
If a man carries holy flesh in his garment, and the garment touches some food, does that contact make the food holy? The answer was “No”.
But if the man is unclean, by contact with a dead body, and he touches some food, does that contact make the food unclean? This time, the answer was
The moral is that we only escape defilement by detaching ourselves from what is defiled.
Of course spiritual uncleanliness, the kind that really matters, is infectious by example. “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” “One
rotten apple can spoil a whole barrel.”
That is why a primary function of the priesthood, probably more important even than sacrifice, is to teach this difference to the people;
“You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the clean and the unclean” (Leviticus ch10 v10, repeated Ezekiel ch44
And when they neglect this task, they are failing in their function as priests;
“Her priests have not taught the difference between clean and unclean… therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them” (Ezekiel ch22 v26,
The health of God’s people depends on looking for the difference between right and wrong, knowing God’s understanding of that difference rather
than their own.
edit on 31-7-2020 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)