Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
This remarkable chapter deals not with the cure of leprosy, but with the ceremonies affecting the reception of the healed person back into the communion with the covenant people and his re-admission to the status that he formerly held in the community and within his family. These complicated rituals are admittedly very ancient and their appearance here is altogether consistent with their having been included here, at God's command, by Moses himself. Lofthouse commented that, "Leviticus 14 shows into what a distant period the whole law must be pushed back." In our opinion, the "pushing back" will never be accurate until it rests in the time of Moses!
It is astounding that some scholars profess to find a connection here with the magical rites of ancient paganism. Lofthouse, for example, said, "There is possibly an original connection with what would now be called magic, getting rid of the spirit or demon of disease." The error in such a view is manifest in the fact that the leper in this chapter had to be healed FIRST, before any of the ceremonies here mentioned could begin. No efficacy whatever to heal the victim is implied or attributed to the ceremonies. As Wenham declared:
"Israel differed from her neighbors, who went in for exorcism and magical attempts to cure disease. In Israel, a man had to seek help directly from God in prayer, and not rely on the dubious remedies of folk medicine."
Since it is obvious that this chapter has nothing to do with the healing of disease, what is the significance of it? Allis discerned this as follows:
"The fact that leprosy is dealt with so elaborately indicates that this particularly loathsome and intractable disease is to be regarded as a type of that indwelling sin in which all the ills and afflictions of mankind have their cause and origin."
We accept this observation as accurate, for it appears that David considered his forgiveness regarding the transgression with Bathsheba as recalling, at least in some particulars, the rites of this chapter. "Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean. Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow" (Psalms 51:7).
"And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing: he shall be brought unto the priest: and the priest shall go forth out of the camp; and the priest shall look; and, behold, if the plague of leprosy be healed in the leper, then shall the priest command to take for him that is to be cleansed two living clean birds, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop: and the priest shall command to kill one of the birds in an earthen vessel over running water. As for the living bird, he shall take it, and the cedar wood, and the scarlet, and the hyssop, and shall dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water: and he shall sprinkle upon him that is to be cleansed from the leprosy seven times, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let go the living bird into the open field. And he that is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, and shave off all his hair, and bathe himself in water; and he shall be clean: and after that he shall come into the camp, but shall dwell outside his tent seven days. And it shall be on the seventh day, that he shall shave all his hair off his head and his beard and his eyebrows, even all his hair he shall shave off: and he shall wash his clothes, and he shall bathe his flesh in water, and he shall be clean."
"The law of the leper in the day of his cleansing ..." This carries overtones of that ultimate "day" when the Son of God who actually had power to heal leprosy would appear, bringing salvation to people. It is as an effective type of sin that the leprosy appears here, and it is as a type of the sinner that the leper himself must be understood. Of course, there is no intimation whatever that lepers were actually sinners, some innocents doubtless being among the sufferers from this terrible malady. Just as the apostle Peter's status as a bound prisoner, naked in darkness, guarded, and condemned to death in Acts 12 appears as an amazing type of all sinners, yet himself being altogether innocent of any particular sin, in like manner, the horrible state of the leper in this chapter stands as a true picture of the way it actually is with sinful people.
"Him that is to be cleansed ..." This expression occurs in Leviticus 14:4,7,8,11,14,17,18,19; and it is of the very greatest interest that eminent Hebrew authorities challenge and deny the rendition appearing here, affirming that:
"The text uses the reflexive rather than passive inflection to refer to the leper's process of purification. In both instances (Leviticus 14:7,11) the leper is referred to as "he who is to cleanse himself" and not as "he who is to be cleansed." This is to indicate that the leper must do his share to become pure. He himself must seek to attain purity by way of repentance and appropriate conduct.
That the Jewish understanding of this is correct is corroborated by the N.T. appearance of exactly the same thought in the commandment of Ananias to Saul of Tarsus, "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins ..." (Acts 22:16). The significance of the middle voice in that passage makes the meaning, "Arise, and get THYSELF baptized."
"Two living clean birds ..." (Leviticus 14:4). The law did not specify the name of the birds, and the use of sparrows in this ritual appeared to be normal in the Jewish customs of later ages (after Moses), but we cannot resist the acceptance of McGee's opinion that, "Most likely they were doves."
"If a plague of leprosy be healed ..." (Leviticus 14:2). Nothing in these ceremonies had anything to do with the healing, because that had to occur as a direct action of God, totally removed from anything else. How did it come about? We are not told. That the sufferer indeed sought remedies and prayed to God may be inferred. It will be remembered that Moses prayed for Miriam when she was afflicted with leprosy (Numbers 12:13).
"Cedar wood, scarlet, and hyssop ..." (Leviticus 14:4). The hyssop mentioned here is often held to be unidentifiable; but Bamberger stated that, "It is probably to be identified with Syrian majoram." That both cedar wood and hyssop were to be used was understood to mean that, "he was stricken because he exalted himself like the cedar, but when he abased himself like the hyssop, he was healed." Such views are not sound, because the attribution to personal sin of the leper as the cause of his malady is not supported by the text. The scarlet is usually thought to have been red wool yarn used to make a convenient bundle of the items mentioned here, which were then used as a kind of broom with which to do the sprinkling.
"Let go the living bird into the open field ..." (Leviticus 14:7). All kinds of notions exist with reference to this. "It was the survival of the extremely ancient idea of the transference of uncleanness to animals." "It was a symbol of the leper's new freedom." "It symbolized the former leper's release from his disease." There is some merit in all these ideas, but something more is meant. "The letting go of the living bird (Leviticus 14:53) in connection with the cleansing of a house indicates that no liberty, privilege, or ability thus came to the house, and so it must be assumed here that the symbolism points not to new found freedom of the sufferer but to the means of his deliverance. In the great antitype, the forgiveness of sin, the means is plain enough, namely, the death and resurrection of the Son of God, and these two birds are a perfect representation of that. The slaughtered one represented the death of Christ, and the released one represented his resurrection. Micklem, therefore, was not amiss in declaring that, "We may suppose that the escaping bird brought home to the leper the bearing away of his uncleanness." It was more effectively stated thusly by Jellie: "The symbolism of the slain bird suggests the death of Christ, and the soaring bird the resurrection of Christ."
This release of the bird also suggests a similar thing observable in the two goats on the Day of Atonement, one being sacrificed, the other being released to roam beyond the camp, and the certain identification of that ceremony with Jesus Christ (as outlined in Hebrews 13:12,13) makes it very likely that a similar identification is also in this. In the scapegoat analogy, the goat bore the sins of Israel away into the wilderness, but here the released bird, sprinkled with the blood, flies away into heaven, suggesting the offering of Christ's blood "in heaven" for us (Hebrews 10:12).
"And on the eighth day he shall take two he-lambs without blemish, and one ewe-lamb a year old without blemish, and three tenth parts of an ephah of fine flour for a meal-offering, mingled with oil, and one log of oil. And the priest that cleanseth him shall set the man that is to be cleansed, and those things, before Jehovah, at the door of the tent of meeting. And the priest shall take one of the he-lambs, and offer him for a trespass-offering, and the log of oil, and wave them for a wave-offering before Jehovah: and he shall kill the he-lamb in the place where they kill the sin-offering and the burnt-offering, in the place of the sanctuary: for as the sin-offering is the priest's, so is the trespass-offering: it is most holy: and the priest shall take of the blood of the trespass-offering, and the priest shall put it upon the tip of the right ear of him that is to be cleansed, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot. And the priest shall take of the log of oil, and pour it into the palm of his own left hand; and the priest shall dip his right finger in the oil that is in his left hand, and shall sprinkle of the oil with his finger seven times before Jehovah: and of the rest of the oil that is in his hand shall the priest put upon the tip of the right ear of him that is to be cleansed, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot, upon the blood of the trespass-offering: and the rest of the oil that is in the priest's hand he shall put upon the head of him that is to be cleansed: and the priest shall make atonement for him before Jehovah. And the priest shall offer the sin-offering, and make atonement for him that is to be cleansed because of his uncleanness: and afterward he shall kill the burnt-offering; and the priest shall offer the burnt-offering and the meal-offering upon the altar: and the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be clean."
Simeon pointed out the analogy between cleansing the leper and the conversion of a sinner: "You must be sprinkled with the blood of Christ ... you shall be washed thoroughly and cleansed from your sin." There is no way for such a view to be mistaken, for the author of Hebrews wrote:
"Let us draw near with a true heart in fullness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water." (Hebrews 10:22).
"Log of oil ..." (Leviticus 14:10,12). "This log was a liquid measure, probably less than a pint."
The importance of this ceremony is indicated by the numerous kinds of offerings that were required to be made, including all of the mandatory offerings:
(3) purification-offering, and
(4) the trespass-offering.
All of these were set forth in Leviticus (Leviticus 1-5). Only the peace-offering, which was voluntary, does not appear here. Another unusual feature of the ceremonies is the touching of the ear, thumb, and big toe, first with blood, and again with oil.
Before leaving this catalogue of the things required for the cleansing in view here, it is appropriate to notice again the washing required in Leviticus 14:9. Seiss called this washing "the third thing required for the leper's cleansing." He added that, "The spiritual significance is easily understood," as indeed it is. The washing is a typical reference to the great initial ordinance of Christianity, namely, that of baptism (Hebrews 10:22).
"And if he be poor, and cannot get so much, then he shall take one he-lamb for a trespass-offering to be waved, to make atonement for him, and one tenth part of an ephah of fine flour mingled with oil for a meal-offering, and a log of oil; and two turtle-doves, or two young pigeons, such as he is able to get; and the one shall be a sin-offering, and the other a burnt-offering. And on the eighth day he shall bring them for his cleansing unto the priest, unto the door of the tent of meeting, before Jehovah: and the priest shall take the lamb of the trespass-offering, and the log of oil, and the priest shall wave them for a wave-offering before Jehovah. And he shall kill the lamb of the trespass-offering; and the priest shall take the blood of the trespass-offering, and put it upon the tip of the right ear of him that is to be cleansed, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot. And the priest shall pour of the oil into the palm of his own left hand; and the priest shall sprinkle with his right finger some of the oil that is in his left hand seven times before Jehovah: and the priest shall put of the oil that is in his hand upon the tip of the right ear of him that is to be cleansed, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot, upon the place of the blood of the trespass-offering: and the rest of the oil that is in the priest's hand he shall put upon the head of him that is to be cleansed, to make atonement for him before Jehovah. And he shall offer one of the turtle-doves, or of the young pigeons, such as he is able to get, even such as he is able to get, the one for a sin-offering, and the other for a burnt-offering, with the meal-offering: and the priest shall make atonement for him that is to be cleansed before Jehovah. This is the law of him in whom is the plague of leprosy, who is not able to get that which pertaineth to his cleansing."
All of these verses are practically nothing more than a recapitulation of Leviticus 14:10-20, with only the substitutions allowed for those too poor to bring what was normally required. For example, a tenth of an ephah was allowed for the poor instead of three tenths, and also the turtle-doves or pigeons instead of lambs. It is important to note, however, that the conditions prior to cleansing were not waived on account of one's poverty. This is important. "The restored Israelite had to realize that not only was sin costly, there was also the type to be demonstrated. This accounts for the fact, "There could be no concessions affecting the main elements of the cleansing, the male lamb for a guilt-offering and the log of oil."
"And Jehovah spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, When ye are come into the land of Canaan, which I give to you for a possession, and I put the plague of leprosy in a house of the land of your possession; then he that owneth the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, There seemeth to me to be as it were a plague in the house. And the priest shall command that they empty the house, before the priest goeth in to see the plague, that all that is in the house be not made unclean: and afterward the priest shall go in to see the house: and he shall look on the plague; and, behold, if the plague be in the walls of the house with hollow streaks, greenish or reddish, and the appearance thereof be lower than the wall; then the priest shall go out of the house to the door of the house, and shut up the house seven days. And the priest shall come again the seventh day, and shall look; and, behold, if the plague be spread in the walls of the house; then the priest shall command that they take out the stones in which the plague is, and cast them into an unclean place without the city: and he shall cause the house to be scraped within round about, and they shall pour out the mortar, that they scrape off, without the city into an unclean place: and they shall take other stones, and put them in the place of those stones; and he shall take other mortar, and shall plaster the house."
The legislation here is prospective, looking forward to the time when the children of Israel would dwell in Canaan. Note the mention of "without the city" in Leviticus 14:41,42, as contrasted with "without the camp" (Leviticus 14:3). It is fanciful and imaginative to take this prospective legislation as indicating a later date for this part of the law. Any supposition that God would not have given Israel special instructions relative to their eventual entry to Canaan, prior to that entry, is founded. The flat and unequivocal declaration that God indeed did just that should be accepted as truth!
What was this leprosy of houses? Significantly, God here declared that he would "put the plague of leprosy" in certain houses in Canaan, and the fact that we do not know exactly what that was does not alter the facts. God performed many wonders for his people in the land of promise. It is generally supposed that this leprosy was "a fungus, or some discoloration," "a dry rot," "a species of mold," or something else. We simply do not know.
Most commentators believe that some natural deterioration of houses is meant here, and that may very well be true. The fact that God mentioned his "putting" the leprosy in certain houses is in line with the ancient Semitic manner of attributing all things that God allowed to God as the doer of them.
Whatever may have been the affliction of those ancient houses, one thing is sure: where people live is a vital part of their environment; and God is surely concerned with the environment in which men live and try to serve him. In a spiritual sense, there are indeed many houses even today that need cleansing!
"And if the plague come again, and break out in the house, after that he hath taken out the stones, and after he hath scraped the house, and after it is plastered; then the priest shall come in and look; and, behold, if the plague be spread in the house, it is a fretting leprosy in the house: it is unclean. And he shall break down the house, the stones of it, and the timber thereof, and all the mortar of the house; and he shall carry them forth out of the city into an unclean place. Moreover he that goeth into the house all the while that it is shut up shall be unclean until the even. And he that lieth in the house shall wash his clothes; and he that eateth in the house shall wash his clothes.
"And if the priest shall come in, and look, and, behold, the plague hath not spread in the house, after the house was plastered; then the priest shall pronounce the house clean, because the plague is healed. And he shall take to cleanse the house two birds, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop: and he shall kill one of the birds in an earthen vessel over running water: and he shall take the cedar wood, and the hyssop, and the scarlet, and the living bird, and dip them in the blood of the slain bird, and in the running water, and sprinkle the house seven times: and he shall cleanse the house with the blood of the bird, and with the running water, and with the living bird, and with the cedar wood, and with the hyssop, and with the scarlet: but he shall let go the living bird out of the city into the open field: so shall he make atonement for the house; and it shall be clean."
It is of interest here that the cleansing of the house followed almost exactly the same ceremonies as those required for the cleansing of the leper, except that there were none of the required offerings such as the trespass-offering and the sin-offering.
Meyrick concluded from Leviticus 14:53 that the common interpretation that sees the loosing of the living bird as a representation of the new liberty and freedom of the cleansed leper must be wrong. "It certainly does not represent any such action that a house may take!"
"This specific legislation comes to an end here. Diseases of the flesh, infected garments, diseased houses - all were intended to make the Israelite aware that he moved in a world of sin, that he was always in the midst of evil."
Although there are many things in these chapters, especially Leviticus 13 and Leviticus 14, that shall continue to appear arcane to us, the overwhelming TRUTH is that, whatever evil may be around us, or even in our flesh, or in our homes, there is always the privilege of recourse to God. God is the final Arbiter of life and death, disease and health, power and weakness; and the believer should always pray diligently for the blessing of the loving Father who is able to do all things:
See now that I, even I, am He,
and there is no god beside Me;
I kill and I make alive;
I wound and I heal.
And there is none that can deliver out of my hand!
- Deuteronomy 32:39
In these interesting teachings, the Israelites were taught not to rely upon men or upon the devices of men for the healing of themselves, their garments, or their houses, but upon God alone. In these days, men have presumably taken over all such functions for themselves by trusting their own remedies and devices, but death has neither been much delayed nor avoided. One wonders if our own generation could not learn from what the ancient covenant people were taught.
"This is the law for all manner of plague of leprosy, and for a scall, and for the leprosy of a garment, and for a house, and for a rising, and for a scab, and for a bright spot; to teach when it is unclean, and when it is clean: this is the law of leprosy."
These verses are a thumbnail summary of the previous two chapters. They constitute sub-section (c) of section 1, of Division Three of Leviticus. The final sub-section (d) of this section is Leviticus 15, dealing with uncleanness from bodily issues.
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