Because mankind lived under the curse of sin and death, Israel was to be an example of life as it should be lived, of life before it was polluted by sin and death. It was radically different than the nations around it. It was clean, wholesome, it did not smell, people were healthy, justice ruled, victory was assured – a nation radically different that the others in the ancient world.
We read in several times in the Pentateuch about being put “outside the camp”. However, only in rare occasions was this a punishment. “Outside the camp” was an area were those who lives did not shout “life” (either temporarily or long term) could be cared for and loved, so that the “picture” that Israel was painting was not distorted. “Outside the camp would have been similar to a hospital or a hotel. We should not think of those “outside the camp” as living on a rubbish tip. God’s people were told that they should “love your neighbor as yourself” and there therefore we can only assume there would have been provision, care and compassion for those outside the camp.
Those who were unclean went there out of love for God. They knew God’s purpose in raising up Israel as a witness nation, and they submitted to being outside the camp out of love for God.
The same is true of skin diseases. As I said, “uncleanness” is was not sinfulness but separation. Uncleanness was a matter of category more than of condition. However, what is important to remember is that ceremonial uncleanness was submitted to out of love for God. I joyfully embrace it as I know it contributes to our modeling God as a God of life.
We often read of “the nations that pass by…” (e.g. Jer 22:8). Israel was located on the land bridge between African, Europe, and Asia. In the ancient world the main trade routes passed through Israel. It was strategically located geographically so that the nations would have to “pass by” (both for trade and for war), and is “passing by” God’s intention was that they would see a society of justice, joy and peace that was a new phenomenon in the ancient world.
This is a principle for the church, a community in which Alan Lewis said that god’s future has taken up residence in the present. How the community of Israel functioned is a paradigm for the church. We cannot make an exact parallel to excommunication as this was always for a sinful action, but there are some parallels between excommunication and “being put outside the camp” that could be fruitfully explored. And when we read the statistics comparing the lifestyle of Christians with unbelievers and read that there is no significant difference, the time has come for us to explore the principle of being “put out of the camp” so that the church regains its position as a city set on a hill”. As Jesus said: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Matthew 5:12-14)