Have you ever stopped to think about how weird it is that we have soap? Think about it. That wondrous little bar of cleansing magic that you hold in your hands in the shower means that once upon a time, some bizarre mind had to come up with a truly strange set of steps.
“Hey,” mutters the wild-haired man staring at the fire. “I know what! Let’s try pouring water through all the leftover ashes from our previous fires.” His eyes squint in concentration as he works out the details in his head. “Then, when the water drains out, instead of being frightened by it—since it can literally peel the skin from your hands (no kidding, this is where we get Lye)—we’ll just put on little hazmat mittens and gather it up by the bucketful.”
Others around the fire look suspiciously at the wild man. Is he serious? Is there a village somewhere whose idiot has gone missing? But most importantly, what would he be planning with such a corrosive liquid? With that thought, they all took three steps backward.
“Don’t leave me now!” he bellows. “It gets better! We’ll take all those buckets of nasty caustic lye and we’re gonna mix it up with gallons of fat that rose to the surface of the water we used to boil up the butchered cows. Isn’t this great?”
At this point the crowd began scanning the ground for excessive empty wineskins. Either that or they were looking for something with which to protect themselves.
“But wait!” he blathers. “This is where it verges on miraculous! We’re going to cook the oily fat with the blistering lye, and when it globs up, we’ll cut into chunks, rub it on our bodies, add some fresh water and wa la! We’ll. . .be. . .CLEAN!”
He grinned in obvious delight. Right up until the point he was thrown into leg irons.
Seriously. Those are the steps in making soap. Who would possibly have put this together? I submit to you that no one could have made such strange leaps of logic. It requires too many leaps of logic and several counterintuitive actions. So then, I pondered. Where did the idea come from? Where in nature would one find a natural mix of water, ash, animal fat and finally, at the end of the whole process, fresh water. And that’s when it hit me. The Old Testament. Or more specifically, the ash mounds from the period of animal sacrifices. Think about it. The rains washed down over the ash mounds, naturally mixing the resulting lye with the cooked fat from the burned animals. Don’t you imagine that it didn’t take long for the local washer women to figure out that the clothes were cleaned more easily downstream rather than up?
I think this is genius. In fact, I think this is God’s God-ness at its best. A little science, a little spiritual lesson and a great big dollop of humor. You may think that God came up with the sacrificial system to get us ready to understand the eventual coming of Christ. And that’s true. But I also suspect He got tired of us being so filthy, smiled that God-smile and decided to help us along. The metaphor works. Filthy bodies cleaned by the sacrifice of so many animals. Filthy hearts made clean by the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. And God, as always, our provider.