SynopsisIn this passage, Moses talks about some things the Israelite soldiers are to do, when they are encamped against their enemies, to prevent uncleanness from entering their camp. The main theme is summed up in verse 9:
When you are encamped against your enemies, keep away from everything impure.
But there are really only two rules given in this passage.
First, if one of the men in the camp becomes unclean because of a “nocturnal emission” (verse 10)—what we would commonly call a “wet dream”—he is to go outside of the camp for the day. He is to wash himself in the evening, and then he will be allowed to return to the camp at sunset.
Second, there is to be a designated place, outside the camp, for the men to relieve themselves. They are also to have an implement for digging as part of their standard equipment, so that when they relieve themselves, they can dig a hole, and then cover up their excrement.
For the LORD your God moves about in your camp to protect you and to deliver your enemies to you. Your camp must be holy, so that he will not see among you anything indecent and turn away from you. (verse 14)
ThoughtsPeople sometimes get an idea that the Bible shies away from talking about certain things; that you never see anybody in the Bible going to the bathroom, for example. However, this is simply untrue. (See, for example, 1 Samuel 24, in which Saul does—gasp!—go to the bathroom.) This passage is another example, where the rules being handed down to the Israelites even go as far as covering going to the bathroom, and nocturnal emissions.
The first time I read this, or maybe the first few times, it did raise another question for me: Why would the LORD turn away from the Israelites because of their bodily waste? I understand that He is holy, but going to the bathroom is not sinful; why would He have a problem with that? But it just emphasizes again that He is far above us, and that we could never get to Him on our own. Our waste is just one more proof that we could never enter His presence. Which is why He had to do all of the work for us, in saving us from ourselves.
This also means that nocturnal emissions are probably not “sinful,” either. Just because they make the man unclean, it doesn’t mean that he has sinned when it happens.