Depart you, depart you, go you out from there, touch no unclean thing; go you out of the middle of her; be you clean…
We have here, under highly metaphorical forms, the grand ideal of the Christian life.
I. We have it set forth as A MARCH OF WARRIOR PRIESTS. Note that phrase, "Ye that bear the vessels of the Lord." The returning exiles as a whole are so addressed, but the significance of the expression, and the precise metaphor which it is meant to convey, may be questionable. The word rendered "vessels" is a wide expression, meaning any kind of equipment, and in other places of the Old Testament the phrase rendered is translated "armour-bearers." Such an image would be quite congruous with the context here, in which warlike figures abound. And if so, the picture would be that of an army on the march, each man carrying some of the weapons of the great Captain and Leader. But perhaps the other explanation is more likely, which regards "the vessels of the Lord"as being an allusion to the sacrificial and other implements of worship, which, in the first Exodus, the Levites carried on the march. And if that be the meaning, then the figure here is that of a company of priests. I venture to throw the two ideas together, and to say that we may here find an ideal of the Christian community as being a great company of warrior priests on the march, guarding a sacred deposit which has been committed to their charge.
1. Look, then, at that combination in the true Christian character of the two apparently opposite ideas of warrior and priest. It suggests that all the life is to be conflict, and that all the conflict is to be worship. It suggests, too, that the warfare is worship, that the office of the priest and of the warrior are one and the same thing, and both consist in their mediating between man and God, bringing God in His Gospel to men, and bringing men through their faith to God. The combination suggests, likewise, how, in the true Christian character, there ought ever to be blended, in strange harmony, the virtues of the soldier and the qualities of the priest; compassion for the ignorant and them that are out of the way with courage; meekness with strength; a quiet placable heart, hating strife, joined to a spirit that cheerily fronts every danger and is eager for the conflict, in which evil is the foe and God the helper.
2. Note, further, that in this phrase we have the old, old metaphor of life as a march, but so modified as to lose all its melancholy and weariness and to turn into an elevating hope.
3. Again, this metaphor suggests that this company of marching, priests have in charge a sacred, deposit. Paul speaks of the "glorious Gospel which was committed to my trust." And, in like manner, to us Christians is given the charge of God's great weapons of warfare, with which He contends with the wickedness of the world — viz, that great message of salvation through, and in, the Cross of Jesus Christ. And there are committed to us, further, to guard sedulously, and to keep bright and untarnished and undiminished in weight and worth, the precious treasures of the Christian life of communion with Him. And we may give another application to the figure and think of the solemn trust which is put into our hands, in the gift of our own selves, which we ourselves can either waste, and stain, and lose, or can guard and polish into vessels meet for the Master's use. Gathering, then, these ideas together, we take this as the ideal of the Christian community — a company of priests on the march, with a sacred deposit committed to their trust.
II. THE SEPARATION THAT BEFITS THE MARCHING COMPANY. "Depart ye, depart ye! go ye out from thence," etc. In the historical fulfilment of my text, separation from Babylon was the preliminary of the march. Our task is not so simple; our separation from Babylon must be the constant accompaniment of our march. The order in the midst of which we live is not organized-on the fundamental laws of Christ's kingdom. And wheresoever there are men that seek to order their lives as Christ would have them to be ordered, the first necessity for them is, "Come out from amongst them, and be ye separate." This separation will not only be the result of union with Jesus Christ, but it is the condition of all progress in our union with Him. They that are to travel far and fast have to travel light. Many a caravan has broken down in African exploration for no other reason than because it was too well provided with equipments, and so collapsed of its own,, weight. Therefore, our prophet, in the context, says, "Touch no unclean thing." There is one of the differences between the new Exodus and the old. When Israel came out of Egypt they spoiled the Egyptians, and came away laden with gold and jewels; but it is dangerous work bringing anything away from Babylon with us. Its treasure has to be left if we would march close behind our Lord and Master. We must touch "no unclean thing," because our hands are to be filled with the "vessels of the Lord." It is man's world that we have to leave, but the loftiest sanctity requires no abstention from anything that God has ordained.
III. THE PURITY WHICH BECOMES THE BEARERS OF THE VESSELS OF THE LORD. "Be ye clean." The priest's hands must be pure, which figure, being translated, is, transparent purity of conduct and character is demanded from all Christian men who profess to carry God's sacred deposit. You cannot carry it unless your hands are clean, for all the gifts that God gives us glide from our grasp if our hands be stained. Monkish legends tell of sacred pictures and vessels which, when an impure touch was laid upon them, refused to be lifted from the place, and grew there, as rooted, in spite of all efforts to move them. Whosoever seeks to hold the gifts of God in His Gospel in dirty hands will fail miserably, in the attempt; and all the joy and peace of communion, the assurance of God's love, and the calm hope of immortal life, will vanish as a soap bubble, grasped by a child, turns into a drop of foul water on its palm, if we try to hold them in foul hands. And, further, remember no priestly service and no successful warfare for Jesus Christ is possible, except on the same condition. One sin, as well as one sinner, destroys much good, and a little inconsistency on the part of us professing Christians neutralizes all the efforts that we may ever try to put forth for Him.
IV. THE LEISURELY CONFIDENCE WHICH SHOULD MARK THE MARCH THAT IS GUARDED BY GOD. "Ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight," etc. This is partly an analogy and partly a contrast with the story of the first Exodus. The unusual word translated "with haste" is employed in the Pentateuch to describe the hurry and bustle, not altogether due to the urgency of the Egyptians, but partly also due to the terror of Israel with which that first flight was conducted. And, says my text, in this new coming out of bondage there shall be no need for tremor or perturbation, lending wings to any man's feet; but, with quiet deliberation, like that with which Peter was brought out of his dungeon, because God knew that He could bring him out safely, the new Exodus shall be carried on. "He that believeth shall not make haste." There is a very good reason why we need not be in any haste due to alarm. For, as in the first Exodus, the guiding pillar led the march, and sometimes, when there were foes behind, as at the Red Sea, shifted its place to the rear, so "the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rereward."
(A Maclaren, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the LORD.