Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, June 15th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 14

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 2

This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought unto the priest:

Law of the leper in the day of his cleansing. A leper, though quite convalescent, was not allowed to return to society immediately and at his own will. The malignant character of his disease rendered the greatest precautions necessary to his re-admission among the people. One of the priests most skilled in the diagnosis of the disease (Grotius) being appointed to attend to such outcasts, the restored leper was inspected in the presence this particular official; and when, after having been examined according to the rules prescribed in the preceding chapter, a certificate of health was given, the ceremonies here described were immediately observed outside the camp.

Verse 3

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;

The priest shall go forth out of the camp. The person infected, having been separated from the worship of God and from communion with His people, could not be restored until the appointed rites had been performed for him; and it was necessary therefore for the priest to go out of the camp or city to meet him.

Behold, if the plague of leprosy be healed in the leper. In the event of his receiving a bill of health, a twofold ceremony was enjoined, at an interval of seven days. Each of these ceremonies was sacrificial, and the victims prescribed in each, though differing from one another, represented the same spiritual benefit in different aspects. In the several acts of purification there were more victims required than one, because the thing signified could not be adequately exhibited by one. These varied offerings show the excellency of the one great offering, and at the same time prove that the law could make nothing perfect.

Verse 4

Then shall the priest command to take for him that is to be cleansed two birds alive and clean, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop:

Then shall the priest command to take for him ... two birds alive and clean. This first step in the purifying course was toward a return to the camp and a re-union with the 'holy nation.' Tsipaariym[ (H6833), small birds. Tsipowr (H6833) signifies a sparrow (Psalms 84:4); whence Jerome, in the Vulgate, renders the word 'sparrows' here; and the Septuagint interprets it in the same manner in five places of the Psalms; also in Ecclesiastes 12:4; Lamentations 3:52. But in the present passage the Septuagint translates it by, ornithia, 'little birds;' and it is evident that the word is to be taken in this generic sense, from their being specified as 'clean'-a condition that would have been altogether superfluous to mention in reference to sparrows.] The law did not specify any particlar species of birds to be used on such occasions; and therefore the presumption is, that all birds, wild or domestic, were allowable, provided they belonged to a class reckoned "clean."

Cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop. [ 'erez (H730), which occurs only in this passage of the Pentateuch, is the name given in the later books to the cedar of Lebanon (1 Kings 6:18; Psalms 29:5; Psalms 92:13; Psalms 104:16; Isaiah 2:13; Ezekiel 31:3).] But the cedrus Libani cannot be meant here, because that famous tree was not a native of the Sinaitic desert. Since the word 'erez (H730) is used in a wide sense to denote any conifer (Celsius, 'Hierobotanicon,' 1:, 106), it has been supposed by many that the juniper (juniper oxycedrus) is referred to, as several varieties of that shrub are found growing abundantly in the clefts and crevices of the Sinaitic mountains. In support of this view, Dr. Wilson states that in Petra he heard the name Araz given to the mountain juniper, 'which, though only a bacciferous pine, is more like a cedar in miniature than a coniferous pine' ('Lands of the Bible,' vol. 2:, p. 392: cf. Lady Calcott's 'Scripture Herbal,' p. 92). [There is reason to believe, however, that the word is used in this connection specifically, not generically, not only because the Septuagint renders it xulon Kedrinon, but because cedar wood was applied by the ancient Egyptians in circumstances analogous to those of the leper's cleansing.]

Cedar wood, which that people imported from Syria, was employed by them, as Wilkinson states ('Ancient Egypt.,' vol. 3:, ch. 9:, p. 169), not only for ornamental purposes, but for coffins, doors, and boxes; and Pliny, quoted by Knobel ('Comment.,' in loco), says that they prepared it for ointments in cases of elephantiasis, ulcers, and other disorders. This Egyptian practice suggests the origin of its use in the purification of the leper; and the small quantity of it-showing the rarity and costliness of the exotic in the desert-affords a presumption that this is the correct view.

"Scarlet" [ uwshniy (H8144) towla`at (H8438), woven crimson; Septuagint, kekloosmenon kokkinon, the woven produce of the coccus insect] - a piece of scarlet cloth or thread, and "hyssop" [ wª'eezob (H231); Septuagint, hussoopon]. The Hebrew word commonly translated "hyssop" in the Bible but which the Arabic rabbis identify with 'sahtar,' is the wild marjoram, an aromatic plant of the labiate order, resembling our hyssop. This plant loves a dry and rocky soil, and is often seen growing up in the midst of old ruins (cf. 1 Kings 5:13).

In many ceremonies symbolical of purification cedar wood and 'eezob (H231) were employed together, as these joined as it were the two extremes of the vegetable world (cf. Numbers 19:6) (Munk's 'Palestine'). A stick of cedar wood was bound to a bunch of hyssop by a scarlet ribbon, and the living bird was to be so attached to it that when they dipped the branches in the water, the tail of the bird might also be moistened, but not the head nor the wings, that it might not be impeded in its flight when let loose.

Verse 5

And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water:

The priest shall command that one of the birds be killed. The act of slaughter was performed by the agency of an attendant, not by the hands of the priest himself, because it was without the camp.

In an earthen vessel over running water. The arrangement of the words is by a matathesis for 'over running water, placed in an earthen vessel.' The killing of the bird figuratively represented the state of the leper, who was virtually dead through his leprosy; its blood was an atonement for him; and as the blood of a single bird would not have been sufficient to immerse the body of another bird, it was mingled with spring water, the purest in quality, and its freshness being a fit emblem of the vivacity of the restored leper.

The mixture of blood and water was intended to increase the quantity necessary for the appointed sprinklings, which were to be repeated seven times, denoting a complete purification (Leviticus 4:6; 2 Kings 5:10; Psalms 51:2; Matthew 8:4; Luke 5:14). But in a case of so much gravity and importance, more was required than the effusion of blood: another significant rite was necessary in order that the process of purification should be as full as that on the day of atonement.

The living bird was set free, in token of the leper's uncleanness being entirely carried away (cf. Leviticus 16:21-22), and of his release from quarantine; the priest, having sprinkled him with the blood as a sign of his appropriation of the atonement (Exodus 24:8), pronounced him clean; and this official declaration was made with all solemnity, in order that the mind of the leper might be duly impressed with a sense of the divine goodness.

Verses 6-7

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:

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 8

And he that is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, and shave off all his hair, and wash himself in water, that he may be clean: and after that he shall come into the camp, and shall tarry abroad out of his tent seven days.

He that is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, and shave off all his hair. The hair was specially affected by the leprosy (Leviticus 13:3; Leviticus 13:10; Leviticus 13:20; Leviticus 13:36; Leviticus 13:40). The killing of the bird and the sevenfold sprinkling of its blood upon the person of the leper implied, that though not called a sacrifice because it was not rendered in a holy place, it possessed all the characteristics of a sin offering; because the leper, thus far cleansed by the blood of atonement, was at that stage re-admissible to the camp of Israel, though not to his own tent, or to communion with God in the worship of the tabernacle.

Verse 9

But 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, also he shall wash his flesh in water, and he shall be clean.

On the seventh day ... he shall shave all his hair ... This renewed ablution of his entire person and clothes, as well as shaving off all his hair, which was to be done with increased care and particularity, was required in a sanatory point of view, lest any relic of leprosy should remain lurking in his hair or garments. The circumstance of a priest being employed seems to imply that instructions suitable to the newly recovered leper would be given, and that the symbolical ceremonies used in the process of lustration would be explained. How far they were then understood we cannot tell. But we can trace some instructive analogies between the leprosy and the disease of sin, and between the rites observed in the process of cleansing leprosy and the provisions of the Gospel.

The chief of these analogies are, that, as it was only when a leper exhibited a certain change of state that orders were given by the priest for a sacrifice, so a sinner must be in the exercise of faith and penitence ere the benefits of the Gospel remedy can be enjoyed by him. The slain bird and the bird let loose are supposed together-for no one emblem from nature was sufficient-to typify, the one the death and the other the resurrection of Christ; while the washings, the shaving, and the sprinklings on him that had been leprous typified the requirements which led a believer to cleanse himself from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord.

Verses 10-20

And on the eighth day he shall take two he lambs without blemish, and one ewe lamb of the first year without blemish, and three tenth deals of fine flour for a meat offering, mingled with oil, and one log of oil.

Two he-lambs ... and one ewe lamb. The second stage in the lustral course now commenced, with a view to the leper's restoration to full fellowship with the Lord: a costlier sacrifice of expiation was required. The purification of the leper was not completed until at the end of seven days after the ceremonial of the birds, and during which, though permitted to come into the camp, he had to tarry abroad-not in his tent, lest some latent remnants of disease about him might infect his family.

Coming daily to appear at the door of the tabernacle with the offerings required, he was presented before the Lord - i:e., before the altar of burnt offering, by the priest that made him clean. And hence, it has always been reckoned among pious people the first duty of a patient newly restored from a long and dangerous sickness to repair to the church to offer his thanksgiving, where his body and soul, in order to be an acceptable offering, must be presented by our High Priest, whose blood alone makes any clean.

The offering was to consist of 3 lambs, 3 tenth deals or decimal parts of an ephah of fine flour: 2 pints 1/10, and one log = 6 egg shells full of pure oil. The victims provided were to be offered in succession (Leviticus 2:1). One of the lambs, along with the log of oil, was for a trespass offering, which properly took the precedence, as the leprosy was a symbol of sin in general, and restitution had, as it were, to be made to God by the leper for his defilement of the camp by his leprosy previous to his expulsion. Both of the articles were waved-this being the only occasion on which that ceremony was observed in a trespass offering; and the reason of the exception was, that the waving implied the symbolical conveyance of the sacrificial gifts to the Lord; so that, as the offerings were a substitute for the offerer, the manner in which they were presented intimated his renewed dedication of himself to the divine service.

It is remarkable that the blood of the trespass offering was applied exactly in the same particular manner to the extremities of the restored leper as that of the ram in the consecration of the priests. The parts sprinkled with this blood were then anointed with oil-a ceremony which is supposed to have borne this spiritual import-that while the blood was a token of forgiveness, the oil was an emblem of healing-as the blood of Christ justifies, the influence of the Spirit sanctifies. Of the other two lambs-the one was to be a sin offering, and the other a burnt offering, which had also the character of a thank offering for God's mercy in his restoration. And this was considered to make atonement 'for him' - i:e., it removed that ceremonial pollution which had excluded him from the enjoyment of religious ordinances, just as the atonement of Christ restores all who are cleansed through faith in His sacrifice to the privileges of the children of God.

Verses 21-32

And if he be poor, and cannot get so much; then he shall take one lamb for a trespass offering to be waved, to make an atonement for him, and one tenth deal of fine flour mingled with oil for a meat offering, and a log of oil;

If he be poor - a kind and considerate provision for an extension of the privilege to lepers of the poorer class. The blood of their smaller offering was to be applied in the same process of purification, and they were as publicly and completely cleansed as those who brought a costlier offering (Acts 10:34).

Verse 33

And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verses 34-47

When ye be 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;

Leprosy in a house. This law was prospective, not being to come into operation until the settlement of the Israelites in Canaan. The words, "I put the leprosy," has led many to think that this plague was a judicial infliction from heaven for the sins of the owner; while others do not regard it in this light, it being common in Scripture to represent God as doing that which He only permits in His providence to be done. Assuming it to have been a natural disease, a new difficulty arises as to whether we are to consider that the house had become infected by the contagion of leprous occupiers; or that the leprosy was in the house itself. It is evident that the latter was the true state of the case from the furniture being removed out of it on the first suspicion of disease on the walls.

Some have supposed that the name of leprosy was analogically applied to it by the Hebrews, as we speak of cancer in trees when they exhibit corrosive effects similar to what the disease so named produces on the human body; while others have pronounced it a mural efflorescence, or species of mildew on the wall, apt to be produced in very damp situations, and which was followed by effects so injurious to health, as well as to the stability of a house, particularly in warm countries, as to demand the attention of a legislator.

'The reddish patches may have been caused by species of fungus, called dry-rot (merulius lacrymans), which appears at first in the floors and beams of buildings, in the form of white cottony patches, from one to eight inches broad, afterwards developing over their whole surface a number of orange or reddish-brown irregular folds, distilling drops of moisture when perfect;-hence, the specific name. This insidious disease, once established, spreads with amazing rapidity, destroying the most solid house in a few years. So virulent is its nature, that it extends from the woodwork of a house even to the walls themselves, and by penetrating their interstices, crumbles them to pieces. The houses of Palestine, numbers of which were built of mud or wood, were peculiarly exposed to its ravages; and when once this fungus obtained a footing, the desperate remedy proposed by Moses had often to be resorted to after the failure of every attempt to extirpate it' ('British and Foreign Evangelical Review,' No. 47:, article 'Biblical Botany,' by H. Macmillan).

Moses enjoined the priests to follow the same course, and during the same period of time, for ascertaining the true character of this disease as in human leprosy-in case of being found leprous, to remove the infected parts, or if afterwards there appeared a risk of the contagion spreading, to destroy the house altogether; and remove the materials to a distance. The patches were frequently green, especially on the walls of houses reared of stone. The stones were probably rough, unhewn stones, built up without cement, in the manner now frequently used in fences, and plastered over, or else laid in mortar. The oldest examples of architecture are of this character. The very same thing has to be done still with houses infected with mural salt. The stones covered with the nitrous encrustation must be removed; and if the infected wall is suffered to remain, it must be plastered all over anew.

Verses 48-57

And if the priest shall come in, and look upon it, and, behold, the plague hath not spread in the house, after the house was plaistered: then the priest shall pronounce the house clean, because the plague is healed.

The priest shall pronounce the house clean. The precautions here described show that there is great danger in warm countries from the house leprosy, which was likely to be increased by the smallness and rude architecture of the houses in the early ages of the Israelite history. Since a house could not contract any impurity in the sight of God, the 'atonement' which the priest was to make for it must either have had a reference to the sins of its occupiers, or to the ceremonial process appointed for its purification, the very same as that observed for a leprous person. This solemn declaration that it was "clean," as well as the offering made on the occasion, were admirably calculated to make known the fact, to remove apprehension from the public mind, as well as relieve the owner from the aching suspicion of dwelling in an infected house.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Leviticus 14". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/leviticus-14.html. 1871-8.
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