The word “purge” appears several times throughout the Bible, primarily in the Old Testament. But what exactly does it mean in these contexts? This post will provide a comprehensive overview of the various biblical usages and meanings of “purge.” We’ll look at the original Hebrew and Greek words, how they’re translated, and the theological implications. By the end, you’ll have a fuller understanding of this important biblical concept.
- The main Hebrew word translated as “purge” is taher, meaning to cleanse or purify.
- In the Law of Moses, it referred to purification from ritual impurity or sin.
- God “purged” the Promised Land by driving out its inhabitants for Israel.
- The prophets used “purge” for refining and cleansing Israel from sin through judgment.
- In the New Testament, it’s used for cleansing conscience and heart from sin by Christ’s sacrifice.
- Overall, “purge” means God’s removal of impurity, guilt, and sin – either ceremonially, morally, or spiritually.
Purge in the Torah
The primary Hebrew word that gets translated as “purge” in our English Bibles is taher (טָהֵר). It’s a verb that means to cleanse, purge, purify, or make clean ceremonially or morally (Strong’s H2891). The basic meaning is to remove impurity.
This word shows up frequently in God’s instructions to Israel in the Torah. Specific objects, people, or spaces considered ritually “unclean” or defiled had to undergo purification ceremonies to be cleansed (Leviticus 15:13). Sicknesses like skin diseases also made people ceremonially impure, requiring ritual cleansing (Leviticus 14:7).
Even physical materials related to worship like gold, silver, brass, and stone had to be “purged” with special water and sacrifices (Numbers 31:23). Intentional sins and moral impurities similarly required atonement by sacrifices to be “purged” (Leviticus 16:30).
So in these ceremonial laws, “purge” meant removing ritual impurity or guilt through God’s prescribed cleansing methods. God’s holiness demands that impurity must be washed away for people to approach Him and dwell in covenant blessing.
Purge in the Conquest
When Israel prepared to enter Canaan, the land itself had to be “purged” because the pagan inhabitants had defiled it with immorality and idolatry.
God commanded Saul:
Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.” (1 Samuel 15:3)
This was an act of divine judgment on those nations and the purging of Canaan for Israel’s sake. The language of purging continues as Joshua leads the conquest:
Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you.” Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.” So they took it up and went ahead of them…The LORD said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses…” (Joshua 3:5-7; 4:14)
God supernaturally fought for Israel to drive out the inhabitants and give them the land. This purged Canaan so Israel could dwell there in purity before the Lord without pagan corruption.
Purge in the Prophets
The prophets frequently use the word “purge” in pronouncing God’s coming judgment on the nations. The basis of His judgment is to purge out unrepentant sin and rebellion from the earth.
For example, Isaiah pronounces oracles against many nations using this language:
Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty…Therefore all hands will be feeble, every heart will melt with fear. Terror will seize them, pain and anguish will grip them; they will writhe like a woman in labor. They will look aghast at each other, their faces aflame. See, the day of the LORD is coming —a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. (Isaiah 13:6, 7-9)
Isaiah says the same of Israel itself because of its sins against God:
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, **come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you! …When you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you. Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived,no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins. Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look on us, we pray, for we are all your people… “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags….” (Isaiah 64:1, 3-6)
Here Isaiah emphasizes that Israel’s self-righteousness cannot save them. Only God’s mercy can purge away their sin and restore them.
So the prophets use “purge” for God’s promised judgment on whole nations and peoples to remove the stain of sin and rebellion. At times this purging comes through foreign invasion and exile. But it’s ultimately meant to refine and restore those who repent.
Purge in the New Testament
The New Testament authors build on this Old Testament language of purging and apply it to spiritual purification from sin through Christ.
The author of Hebrews says that in Old Testament times:
the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order. But when Christ came…he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:9-14)
Rather than mere external purification, Christ’s sacrifice purges our hearts and consciences from guilt and dead works to serve God in Spirit.
Similarly, Peter says:
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:18-23)
Peter says that because Christ’s sacrifice has purged us from sin, we must live out that purification with sincere sacrificial love.
So in the New Testament, “purge” means cleansing from moral impurity through identifying with Christ’s sacrificial death by faith. This then enables us to serve God and love others out of a purified heart.
Let’s draw together some key implications from the biblical usage of “purge”:
- It illustrates the seriousness of sin and impurity before a holy God. There is a moral stain or corruption that requires removal.
- God takes the initiative to provide a means of purification through atonement sacrifices and ultimately Christ’s sacrifice.
- Purging enables sinners to draw near to God’s presence and live in covenant relationship with Him.
- There is both an objective, forensic purging from the guilt of sin before God, and an internal subjective purging of the conscience and heart.
- Purging out sin prepares for ethical life and obedience. Cleansing leads to consecration.
- God’s purging refines and restores His people, not just destroying. Judgment has a hopeful purpose.
- The New Testament fulfills and completes the Old Testament types and shadows of purification in Christ.
May this overview spur us all to reflect deeply on our need for cleansing from sin through Christ our sacrifice. And may it move us to live out ongoing purification through pursuing holiness by the Spirit’s power.