Sorry, I'm not trying to ask an uncouth question, just genuinely curious. In Deuteronomy 23:12-14 it says:

You shall also have a place outside the camp and go out there, and you shall have a spade among your tools, and it shall be when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and shall turn to cover up your excrement. Since the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp to deliver you and to defeat your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy; and He must not see anything indecent among you or He will turn away from you.

Since excrement is part of a body's natural function and (I'm assuming) a part of human creation since God created Adam, why is this thing viewed as unholy? If Adam and Eve had not sinned, for example, would excrement still be viewed as unholy and not fit to be viewed in God's sight, otherwise He would turn away?

  • And thou shalt have a paddle upon thy weapon [KJV]. The same implement with which they fought their outward enemies was the same implement with which they dealt with that which, being offensive, came from their own flesh. There's a spiritual lesson to be learned there. Nothing in scripture is extraneous : all is to purpose. If I can find time I will enlarge on this to an answer but we are in unprecedented times and I cannot promise.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 17, 2020 at 19:57
  • Gremosa, It was not just excrement that was considered unclean or unholy. Any bodily discharge of any kind could render an individual ceremonially unclean whether it was blood, spittal, semen, vaginal discharge, or even sweat.
    – oldhermit
    Commented May 2, 2020 at 18:03

2 Answers 2


1. Proposed Answer, A Metaphor

My interpretation of this commandment is as a "Type", (a metaphor), a shadow of a greater truth: that the greater judgment isn't against what is within our hearts, (camps), but what we outwardly produce, (our speech, works, etc.,)., the things that can make us truly unclean.

2. "Holy" and "Clean" are Legal and Relative Concepts, Not Scientific

In Scripture, what is stated as clean, unclean, holy, or profane, in Scripture these are all legal rulingsnot scientific observations.

Also, it is a judgment that is relative to the listener. To Israel, Pork would be unclean, by judgment. But for other nations, no such judgment holds, (Biblically). Scientifically, it doesn't even make sense.

So yes, technically defecation is a normal part of Human biology and isn't necessarily unholy/unclean in view of all that is created.

But ultimately, it was a judgment call to keep the camp clean and to separate the unclean from the camp.

3. "Holy," Clarified

"Holy" means to be consecrated, or set aside for a particular use. This is kind of like how some families save the "good china" (expensive dishes), just for holi-days. Those dishes are for that purpose, alone. Holy.

4. Parallel Texts Regarding Judgments of what is "Clean"

Peter has his own struggle with this concept in Acts, regarding Gentiles.

Jesus clarified by explaining that to God it isn't what goes into man that makes him unclean, it is what comes out, (their words).

  • Thank you so much for the helpful answer! I also like the reminder of what Jesus said was ultimately clean or unclean. Commented Jun 27, 2022 at 14:28

This scripture does not say that excrement is unholy. It says the camp must be holy; and that defecating in the camp would be indecent. Not to mention unsanitary and unhealthy.

When Isreal left Egypt, Exodus 12:37 states that there were 600,000 "men of foot." Men of foot is generally considered men of fighting age. The modern US military considers men of fighting age to be between 16 and 49. So, this does not include women, children, or the elderly. It is estimated that over 2 million people left Egpyt.

For 40 years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness (Numbers 32:13). 2 million people living in tents for 40 years in the desert can be dangerous. A simple cold could wipe out most of the nation. This is why God gave Isreal many commandments that were less about righteousness and more about maintaining a health camp. Like not defecating in the camp.

Leviticus 5:2, 3; Numbers 19:16. Laws about touching dead bodies.

Leviticus 14:8-9. Isolating the sick outside the camp.

Leviticus 15:4-27. Laws required bathing and clothes washing.

Deuteronomy chapters 12, 13, 14, 23 and many more.

God is not calling excrement unholy He is saying that defecating in the camp would be unholy, unclean, unsanitary, unhealthy. Even dogs know not to poop and eat in the same place.

---- Response to Comment ----

This is the exact verse I was referring to. Here the Lord is talking about how the camp should be, "therefore your camp must be holy;" This is not God suggesting excrement is unholy because of Adam. Israelites are craping in the camp! God is telling them it is indecent.

If we went camping, and my son was too lazy to walk out of camp and chose to crapped just outside our tent. I would make him clean it up and teach him exactly what God was teaching Israel...

Verse 12) You will go to a place outside of the camp

Verse 13) You will take a shovel and dig a hole, and after done, you will bury it.

Verse 14) I walk in this camp. I am here to keep you safe; therefore, you will keep this camp clean, just like you should keep yourself clean, both physically and spiritually.

According to Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon, the etymology of קָדוֹשׁ is "pure, clean, holy, sacred." The root word for "holy" is clean. It would not be improper in this instance to translate "holy" as "clean."

This verse has nothing to do with Adam's sins. Nor is it about the unholiness of excrement. This is another example of the indecency and unclean behavior of Isreal.

  • Thank you for the helpful comment, Havitor! Could you comment a bit more on this part of the passage specifically: "Since the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp to deliver you and to defeat your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy; and He must not see anything indecent among you or He will turn away from you"? It makes it seem like excrement is indecent and seeing it would make God turn away from the Israelites, which is a separate matter than hygiene and cleanliness. Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 2:29

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