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(1) And the Lord spake unto Moses.—The regulations for the purification of the leper are delivered to Moses alone, who is to communicate them to Aaron and his sons, whilst the rules by which the distemper is to be discerned were given both to Moses and Aaron. (See Leviticus 13:1.) The reason for this is probably that Moses was designed by God as the great law-giver and teacher of the priesthood as well as of the laity.
(2) This shall be the law of the leper.—That is, the manner in which an Israelite cured of his leprosy shall be purified and restored to the communion of the sanctuary on the day when he is pronounced clean.
He shall be brought unto the priest.—He is to be conducted from his place of seclusion (see Leviticus 13:46) to an appointed place on the borders of the camp. It was this coming to the priest to which Christ referred when He said to the leper whom He had healed, “Go, show thyself to the priest, and ofter the gift that Moses commanded” (Matthew 8:4).
(3) And the priest shall go forth.—To this appointed place the priest had to go to meet and examine the restored leper, and to satisfy himself that he was thoroughly cured.
(4) Then shall the priest command to take.—Literally, And the priest shall command, and he shall take, that is, the leper shall take. To avoid the ambiguity as to the person, the translators of the Authorised Version adopted the rendering in the text. As the relatives of the cured leper procured the things prescribed for the purification, some of the ancient versions render it, And they shall take.
Two birds alive and clean.—These were either sparrows, doves, turtledoves, or any other birds, provided they belonged to the clean species described in Leviticus 11:0. According to the canons which obtained during the second Temple, the birds had to be sparrows, and the reason assigned for it was that as leprosy was regarded as a Divine punishment for calumny, such birds were selected as were proverbial for their constant twitter. Hence the rendering of sparrow in the Latin Vulgate, and in the Margin of the Authorised Version.
And cedar wood.—This had to be a foot and a half long, and a quarter of the foot of the bed in thickness. Though this wood was primarily chosen for its antiseptic properties, which made it peculiarly suitable for the occasion, still, belonging to the loftiest of trees (Pss. 2:13, Pss. 27:24; Amos 2:9), it also was designed to symbolise the haughtiness of mind which called down the affliction of leprosy.
And scarlet.—This was probably a band of scarlet wool with which the cedar and the hyssop were tied together. In later times the woollen band had to be the weight of a shekel, or weighing thirty-two grains of barley. It was taken to symbolise the purified and now healthy blood.
And hyssop.—This, according to the canons which obtained in the time of Christ, had at least to be a handbreadth in size. It could not be the so-called Greek, or the ornamental, or Roman, or wild hyssop, or any other hyssop which was distinguished by the name of the place where it grew, but had to be the common hyssop which grew in gardens. Though, like the cedar wood, it was primarily used on these occasions for its aromatic properties, yet this diminutive shrub was also most probably designed to symbolise the humility of the cured leper. Hence ancient tradition tells us, “Cedar wood and hyssop, the highest and the lowest, give the leper purity. Why these? Because pride was the cause of the distemper, which cannot be cured till man becomes humble, and keeps himself as low as hyssop.” Cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet were also burnt with the red heifer (Numbers 19:6), and were generally employed in purifications (Hebrews 9:19). Hence the Psalmist prays, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean” (Psalms 51:17).
(5) And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed.—Rather, And the priest shall command, and he shall kill the one bird, that is, upon the priest ordering it, the cured leper is to kill the one which is the fairer and better bird of the two, as was the rule during the second Temple. Not being a sacrifice, the victim was killed outside the camp.
In an earthen vessel over running water.—Better, over an earthen vessel upon (or into) living water, that is, the bird was killed over the dish, so as to let the blood flow into the water. The vessel had to be a new one; into it was poured a fourth part of a log, or as much as an egg and a-half of “living water:” that is, water taken from a running stream or a perennial spring, where its continual motion resembles life, in contradistinction to stale or stagnant water. Water which had already been used for other purposes, salt water, rain water, or water which had been melted or warmed, was illegal. When the blood had thus been wrung into it, a hole was dug, and the bird was buried in the presence of the priest and the patient.
(6) And shall dip them and the living bird.—With the crimson thread the priest tied together lengthwise the bundle of hyssop and the cedar wood, extended about them the wings and the tail of the living bird, and then dipped all the four in the mixture of blood and water which was in the earthen vessel.
(7) And he shall sprinkle.—Having thus dipped the hyssop fastened to the cedar stick into the blood and water, the priest is to sprinkle with it the back of the hand and the forehead of the patient seven times. The seven times symbolised the complete cleansing. (See Leviticus 4:6.) Hence Naaman the leper washed himself seven times in the Jordan (2 Kings 5:10; 2 Kings 5:14).
And shall let the living bird loose.—Whereupon the priest not only pronounced the cured man clean and restored to his liberty, but at the same time liberated the bird also. The release of the bird symbolised the freedom restored to the patient, who, like the bird, was now at liberty to go where he liked without any restraint. Because it is here said that the bird is to be let loose “into the open field,” or, more literally, towards the face of the field, the ancient canons decreed that he who lets it loose must not turn his face towards the sea, wilderness, or city, but towards the field. The cedar wood, the crimson thread, and the hyssop, as well as the bird, if caught again, could be used again in the cleansing of other lepers.
(8) Shall wash his clothes.—This was done not to disinfect them, for leprosy, as we have seen, was not contagious, but as an act of purification, which was performed after every kind of defilement. (See Leviticus 6:20; Leviticus 11:25, &c.)
And shave off all his hair.—The razor had to pass over the whole of his body, even his secret parts. A similar process was undertaken at the consecration of the Levites. (Comp. Numbers 8:7.)
And shall tarry abroad out of his tent—But though permitted to return to the camp, yet he had to live the first week out of his own house. This the authorities during the second Temple rightly regarded as an euphemism for seclusion from connubial intercourse during the first seven days, in order that he might not contract impurity (see Leviticus 15:10), and thus interrupt the period of holy preparation. Hence the ancient Chaldee Version of the so-called Jonathan translates it: “He shall sit without the tent of the house of his habitation, and shall not come near to the side of his wife seven days.” With this ended the first stage of purification, which restored the convalescent to his social or civil privileges, but not to the sanctuary.
(9) But it shall be . . . —Better, And it shall be. The second stage of purification, which restored the convalescent to the communion of the sanctuary, began on the seventh day, when, as a first act, he had again to shave off the hair of the whole of his body.
Also he shall wash his flesh.—Better, and he shall bathe himself, or his body. The expression “flesh” simply means self, or body, as the Authorised Version rightly translates it in Ecclesiastes 2:3; Isaiah 10:8; Ezekiel 10:12. Besides Numbers 19:7, the full phrase, “to wash the flesh in water,” occurs eight times, and always in Leviticus (Leviticus 14:9; Leviticus 15:13; Leviticus 15:16; Leviticus 16:4; Leviticus 16:24; Leviticus 16:26; Leviticus 16:28; Leviticus 22:6), and is rendered in three different ways in the Authorised Version: by (1) “wash his flesh in water” (Leviticus 14:9; Leviticus 15:16; Leviticus 16:4); by (2) “wash his flesh with water” (Leviticus 16:24); by (3) “bathe his flesh in water” (Leviticus 15:13; Leviticus 16:24; Leviticus 16:26; Leviticus 16:28; Numbers 19:7). When a peculiar ritual phrase designedly deviates in a single section in the original from another phrase which is used to express the same idea (comp, Leviticus 14:8; Leviticus 15:5-8; Leviticus 15:10; Leviticus 15:12; Leviticus 15:16; Leviticus 15:18; Leviticus 15:21-22; Leviticus 15:27; Leviticus 17:15), it is essential that it should be translated by the identical phrase in English. During the second Temple, restored lepers bathed in a chamber at the north-western corner of the Court of the Women, called the “chamber of the lepers.”
(10) And on the eighth day.—Though restored to social intercourse with his fellow brethren, the recovered leper could not at once be admitted to the privileges of the sanctuary, but had to bring on the eighth day three kinds of sacrifices: viz., a trespass offering, a sin offering, and a burnt offering. The lamb for the sin offering had not only to be without blemish (see Leviticus 1:3), but of the first year (see Leviticus 12:6).
And three tenth deals of fine flour.—Each of these three sacrifices is to be accompanied by a meat offering, consisting of a tenth part of an ephah (which is an omer) of flour. The omer, which is the same as “the tenth deal” (see Exodus 16:36), as it is here called, is equal to 43⅕ eggs, or about four pints. Ordinarily a meat offering did not accompany the trespass offering or the sin offering, and only one omer was brought with a lamb (see Numbers 15:4); but according to the administrators of the law during the second Temple, three omers are here prescribed as a substitute for the drink offering which should have accompanied the two expiatory sacrifices. For the manner in which the meat offering was prepared, see Leviticus 11:1-4.
And one log of oil.—This oil, as we see afterwards (see Leviticus 14:15, &c.), was used to sprinkle seven times before the Lord, to sanctify the ear, the hand, the foot, and the head of the restored leper. The measure log, which occurs four times in this section (Leviticus 14:10; Leviticus 14:12; Leviticus 14:15; Leviticus 14:21), is not to be found in any other part of the Hebrew Scriptures. According to the authorities at the time of Christ, a “log” is equal to six hen’s eggs.
(11) Shall present the man . . . before the Lord, at the door.—As his purification was not yet effected, since expiation had not yet been made, the convalescent could not enter into the court of the Israelites. Hence, during the second Temple the priest who performed the function of purifying him went close to the gate of Nicanor, between the court of the Women and that of Israel. Here the patient stood with his face towards the sanctuary, which was taken to mean “before the Lord.” The phrase “at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation,” as usual, should be rendered at the entrance of the tent of meeting. (See Leviticus 1:3.)
(12) And offer him for a trespass offering.—As leprosy was a Divine punishment for sin, the restored leper had to bring expiatory sacrifices. There is, however, a striking difference in the ritual of the leper’s trespass offering and the ordinary trespass offering described in Leviticus 5:6, &c. In the case before us, not-only did oil accompany it, but both the trespass offering and the oil were waved by the priest, which did not take place on any other occasion in connection with the trespass offering and sin offering. Indeed, in no other case was the entire victim waved before the Lord.
(13) And he shall slay the lamb.—Better, And the lamb shall be killed. On ordinary occasions the sacrificer himself slaughtered the victim on the north side of the altar (see Leviticus 1:5); but as the convalescent was not as yet allowed to enter the court, other persons appointed for these occasions killed the sacrifice. Hence the ancient Chaldee Version of the so-called Jonathan ben Uzziel rightly renders it, “And the slaughterer shall slay the lamb.” The phrase is therefore better rendered in the passive, as is often the case in Hebrew. Before the sacrifice was slain the offerer had to lay his hands on the victim. (See Leviticus 1:4.) For the reason, however, already stated, the convalescent could not do it before the altar. The lamb was therefore brought to the door of the court where the leper stood, and the convalescent put his hands through the gate of Nicanor, and laid them on the victim. From this place the purification was performed of men who contracted defilement from a running issue, and of women when they brought their offerings after childbirth. (See Leviticus 12:6.)
In the place where he shall kill the sin offering.—Better, in the place where they kill, &c, as exactly the same phrase is rendered by the Authorised Version in chap 4:33: that is, in the court of the sanctuary, on the north side of the altar (see Leviticus 1:11; Leviticus 6:25), which was more holy than the entrance where the convalescent stood.
For as the sin offering . . . —The flesh of both these sacrifices was the perquisite of the officiating priest, and could only be eaten by him and the male members of his family within the court of the sanctuary, being of the class of sacrifices which were most holy. (See Leviticus 6:18.)
(14) And the priest shall take some of the blood.—During the second Temple two priests caught the blood of the trespass offering—one into a vessel, and the other into the hollow of his hand. The one who caught the blood in the vessel sprinkled it against the wall of the altar, whilst the other who had the blood in the hollow of his hand went to the convalescent, who was waiting in the porch of Nicanor opposite the eastern door, with his face turned to the west.
And the priest shall put it upon the tip of the right ear.—Still unable to enter the court of the sanctuary, because he had not as yet been cleansed, the restored leper put his head through the gate of Nicanor, when the priest who caught the blood in the hollow of his hand, and who stood within the court, close to the entrance, (because the blood of the expiatory sacrifices could not be brought beyond the limits of the court of Israel), put some of it on the cartilage of his right ear. He then put through his right hand, and the priest put some of the blood on his thumb; he then again put through his right foot, and the priest put some of the blood on the great toe. To expedite the process, the restored leper was also allowed to put through all the three members at once. If the cured leper had not a thumb on his right hand, or a toe on his right foot, or a right ear, he was never cleansed. The right members were chosen for these symbolical acts, as in the case of the consecration of the priest, because they are represented as the strongest, and are therefore the most able to execute the will of God, for which reason they were henceforth dedicated to His service. (See Leviticus 7:24.)
(15) Shall take some of the log of oil.—This he had to do with his right hand, which is actually expressed in the ancient Chaldee paraphrase.
And pour it into the palm of his own left hand.—Better, and he shall pour it into the palm of the priest’s left hand, that is, the priest who has hitherto performed the ceremony of cleansing the leper now takes some of the log of oil, and puts it into the left hand of his fellow priest. This is not only distinctly declared in the canons which obtained during the second Temple, but is expressed in the text, which is seen from the literal translation we have given of the clause in question. The same priest, however, was allowed to pour it into the palm of his own hands. To express this view, which the translators of the Authorised Version espoused, they omitted the word priest, which is to be found in the original, and substituted his own, which is not in the original.
(16) And the priest shall dip.—The priest did not take the oil into the sanctuary, but, holding it in the hollow of his hand, stood in the court, whilst the officiating priest, turning his face to the Holy of Holies, dipped his right finger in the oil, and sprinkled it seven times upon the floor of the court, which was understood to mean “before the Lord,” dipping his finger every time he sprinkled the oil.
(17) And of the rest of the oil.—With the rest of the oil both priests returned to the leper, when the officiating priest put it on those parts of the convalescent’s body on which he had previously put blood, so that the oil now actually was “upon the blood of the trespass offering,” on the tip of the ear, the thumb, and the toe of the cleansed leper. (See also Leviticus 14:28.)
(18) He shall pour upon the head.—That which remains of the oil in the hollow of the priest’s hand after some of it had been sprinkled seven times before the Lord, and after some had been put on the several organs of the leper’s body, the priest is to put, not “pour,” upon the convalescent’s head—the quantity left in the hand not being sufficient to pour—whilst the bulk of the log from which the hollow handful has been taken was the perquisite of the officiating priests, and, like the flesh of the sacrifices, had to be consumed within the sacred precincts.
And the priest shall make an atonement.—According to the canons which obtained during the second Temple, it was the act of putting the oil on the several organs, but more especially on the head, which effected the atonement of the restored leper. Failing to do this, even if the prescribed sacrifices had been offered, no expiation was made. The atonement was made for the sins which brought leprosy upon the sinner.
(19) And the priest shall offer the sin offering.—The other ewe lamb mentioned in Leviticus 14:10 the priest is now to offer as a sin offering, to expiate the sins which the restored leper had committed during his illness, having probably given vent to impatient and unbecoming expressions at his loathsome condition, not as due in consequence of having been in a state of uncleanness. The regulations in Leviticus 5:2-3, refer to cases when through thoughtlessness the unclean person forgot his duty.
(20) Shall offer the burnt offering.—With the offering of the burnt offering, accompanied by the meat offering mentioned in Leviticus 14:10, concluded the second and last stage of the purification of the leper, which completely restored him to the privileges of the sanctuary.
(21) And if he be poor.—The benign consideration for the poor which has been evinced on former occasions in connection with the sacrifices (see Leviticus 5:7; Leviticus 5:11, Lev. 12:18) is also shown here. Three lambs and three tenth deals of flour were more than a poor leper could afford to bring. In such cases, therefore, all that was required was one lamb, which constituted the trespass offering, and one tenth deal of flour for a meat offering, and the log of oil which was needed for his consecration.
(22) Two turtledoves, or two young pigeons—which were plentiful and cheap in Palestine (see Leviticus 1:14), instead of the two lambs required of those who were able to bring them.
(23) And he shall bring them on the eighth day.—This premises that the poor man is to go through the first stage of purification which is prescribed in Leviticus 14:3-6, and which admits him to social life, in exactly the same manner as the rich man, since the things prescribed for this stage are inexpensive.
(24-29) And the priest shall take the lamb.—The ritual for the poor man’s sacrifices, however, is the same as that which is prescribed for the rich man. The solemnity and imposing nature of the service is not diminished, as both rich and poor are alike in the presence of the Lord. Hence the directions in Leviticus 14:24-29 in connection with the humbler sacrifices are simply a repetition of those ordained in Leviticus 14:12-18, to be observed in the case of the more costly offerings.
(32) This is the law of him . . . whose hand is not able to get.—That is, that which is laid down in Leviticus 14:21-31 constitutes the law for the restored leper who is too poor to offer the sacrifices prescribed in Leviticus 14:10-20.
(33) And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron.—Whilst the law about the cleansing of restored lepers was addressed to Moses alone (see Leviticus 14:1), the regulations about leprous houses, like those with regard to leprous garments and persons, are for the same reason delivered to Moses and Aaron conjointly. (See Leviticus 13:1.)
(34) When ye be come into the land of Canaan.—We have here the first of four instances in Leviticus of a law being given prospectively, having no immediate bearing on the condition of the people of Israel (see Leviticus 19:23; Leviticus 23:10; Leviticus 25:2). This may be the reason why it is separated from the law of leprous men and garments, which we should naturally expect it would follow, instead of being preceded by the law of cleansing, and why it occupies the position of an appendix. Because it is here said “the land of Canaan,” the authorities during the second Temple maintained that this supernatural plague of leprous houses was peculiar to Palestine, and was unknown in any other country. They moreover adduce the words “in a house of the land of your possession” to account for the fact that houses in Palestine not in the possession of the Israelites,—i.e., houses of Gentiles—were exempt from this distemper, that the synagogues throughout the country which had no official dwelling-houses attached to them were never visited by this loathsome disease, and that none of the houses in Jerusalem were ever afflicted with it, because the holy city was never divided among the tribes. Whatever we may think of their interpretation, the testimony of these eye-witnesses who had to administer the laws of leprosy, that out of Palestine, that in certain houses in Palestine, and that in the whole of Jerusalem, this kind of distemper was unknown, remains unshaken.
And I put the plague of leprosy.—The plague is here described as a supernatural one, proceeding from the immediate hand of God. Ordinary leprosy, as we are told by the authorities in the time of Christ, comes upon man for the following sins: “for idolatry, for profaning the name of the Lord, unchastity, theft, slander, false witness, false judgment, perjury, infringing the borders of a neighbour, devising malicious plans, or creating discord between brothers.” House leprosy is sent by God if the owner of a plot of land on the sacred soil builds his house with materials unlawfully acquired. Hence the ancient Chaldee Version of Jonathan renders the first part of this verse by, “And if there be a man who buildeth his house with stolen goods, then I will put the plague,” &c.
(35) He that owneth the house.—As in the case of the suspicious symptoms in human beings, the suspected house is forthwith to be examined by the priest.
Saying, It seemeth to me . . . —According to the authorities in the time of Christ, this prescribes the formula which the owner of the house is to use when he communicates the fact to the priest. Hence they enacted that though he be himself an expert in these matters, and know certainly that it is leprosy, he is not to say positively to the priest, “The plague has appeared in my house,” but “It seemeth to me . . . as it were,” &c, because it was the office of the priest to pronounce a positive sentence on the subject.
(36) That they empty the house.—If the examination was made before the removal of the objects in it, and the priest pronounced the house leprous, all the furniture, &c, found therein would be defiled. Hence the benign law that everything should be removed previous to the priest’s inspection, to save the household stuff. This assuredly shows that the law did not regard leprosy as infectious.
(37) With hollow strakes, greenish or reddish.—If the house is really leprous, the priest on inspecting it will find in the walls the same three symptoms which are visible in the skin of leprous human beings: (1) hollow strakes, or, rather, deep cavities or depressions, which the ancient canons define as a depression deeper than the rest of the wall, being the same symptom as in man (see Leviticus 13:3); (2) a greenish or (3) a reddish spot, which were the second and third symptoms of leprosy in men and garments. (Comp. Leviticus 13:49.) According to the canons which obtained during the second Temple, the size of this discoloured spot on the wall had to be that of two beans.
(38) Shut up the house seven days.—On finding these symptoms, the priest is to put the house in quarantine for seven days, in order to see what alteration will take place during this interval, adopting the same treatment as in the case of leprous garments. (See Leviticus 13:50.)
(39, 40) And the priest shall come again.—If on inspecting it again at the end of the first week’s quarantine, the priest finds that the depression or discolouring has spread in the walls, thus indicating the progress of the disease, just as in the case of leprous men and garments (see Leviticus 13:5), he is to order the affected stones which exhibit these symptoms to be pulled out of the walls, and to be cast into the unclean receptacle which was prepared outside every city for carcases and filth of every kind, just as there was outside the city a clean place for the deposition of the ashes of the sanctuary. (See Leviticus 4:11.) It will be seen that out of the eight verbs used in Leviticus 14:40-42 in connection with the removing of the affected stones and the constitution of new ones, the scraping, and the plaistering, six are in the plural: viz., they shall take, they shall cast (Leviticus 14:40); they shall pour out, they shall scrape off (Leviticus 14:41); they shall take, they shall put them (Leviticus 14:42); and two are in the singular: viz., he shall take other mortar, he shall plaister (Leviticus 14:42). From this the authorities during the second Temple concluded, and hence enacted, that if the affected stones are in a partition wall which divides two houses occupied by two different owners, both alike must take part in the first six acts, whilst the new mortaring and the plaistering must be done by the owner of the affected house alone.
(43, 45) And if the plague come again.—If after these alterations and precautions the symptoms reappear, the house must be pulled down, just as the garment was destroyed under similar circumstances (see Leviticus 13:51), and the materials deposited in the unclean receptacle outside the city, since its re-appearance shows that it is an incurable leprosy. From the fact that the materials of the house here spoken of are stones, earth, and wood, the ancient canons enacted that no dwelling is exposed to the laws of leprosy unless it has four walls, and is built of stone, earth, and wood. Houses of brick and marble, therefore, do not come within these laws.
(46) Moreover he that goeth into the house.—If any one only momentarily entered the house whilst it was under quarantine, he contracted defilement, which lasted till sundown of the same day. After the priest declared it unclean, it defiled by simply touching it outside.
(47) And he that lieth in the house.—As abiding in it all night was graver than a momentary entrance, it involved the washing of the garments before the person so defiled could be clean. The same was the case if any one made a meal in it.
(48) The plague hath not spread.—If at the end of the second week’s quarantine the distemper has not spread, having been checked by the means prescribed in Leviticus 14:42-43, the priest is to declare it clean, and fit for re-habitation. This is the same criterion adopted in the case of leprous men and garments. (See Leviticus 13:6; Leviticus 13:58.)
(49-53) And he shall take to cleanse the house.—The same rites are prescribed for cleansing the house which were performed in cleansing the healed leper (see Leviticus 14:3-7), with the exception of the sacrifices which the man brought afterwards, and which were necessarily absent in the case of the restored leprous house.
(54-56) This is the law for all manner of plague.—These verses sum up the laws of leprosy given in Leviticus 13:14. The various names contained in Leviticus 14:56 are repeated from Leviticus 13:2.
(57) To teach when it is unclean.—This verse is intimately connected with Leviticus 14:54, viz.: “This is the law for all manner of plague of leprosy . . . to afford instruction in the day of uncleanness, and in the day of cleanness:” that is, to furnish them with instructions against the time when they would have to deal with these cases in taking possession of the promised land. The ancient authorities, however, insisted upon the literal rendering which is substantially exhibited in the Margin of the Authorised Version, viz., “To teach concerning the day of uncleanness and concerning the day of cleanness: i.e., to instruct the people on which days this distemper may be examined and decided. Hence the ancient Chaldee Version of Jonathan renders it, “That the priests may teach the people to discern between the dark days, when his leprosy is to be examined, and between the bright days.” (See Leviticus 13:2.)
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Leviticus 14". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
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