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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible

Leviticus 13

Verses 1-59

LAWS CONCERNING LEPROSY (vv. 1-44)

The seriousness of the plague of leprosy is emphasized by the fact that two long chapters are devoted to this subject. The physical illness, however, is significant of that which is far more serious spiritually. In Chapter 12 have seen the sinful nature of mankind dealt with; now this chapter considers that which speaks of the outbreak of the nature in sinful activity. For, though we are not responsible for having a sinful nature, yet we are responsible if we allow it to break out in sinful actions, and today those who form an assembly are responsible to discern and judge evil when it does break out among them.

When something of a questionable character appeared on a person's skin, then he was to be brought to a priest, who was to examine it, for he might not come voluntarily. All the congregation could not examine him, but a fit representative of the congregation was to do so. Thus, in the assembly, though all believers are priests, yet it would be only those in whom priestly character is developed who are able to rightly discern and judge as to the seriousness of any suspected evil. Those who investigate such things should be those who have godly discernment and experience, and who know how to “have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray” (Hebrews 5:2)

If something appeared on the skin of an individual that turned into a sore similar to leprosy, then a priest was to examine him. If two symptoms were evident, the hair in the sore turned white and the sore deeper than the skin, then no question remained: it was leprosy, and the priest was to pronounce the patient unclean. The white hair would speak of the decay of spiritual strength and the sore deeper than the skin indicates that the sin is not merely a light case of indiscretion. To discern this requires true spiritual perception, and great care must be taken that any judgment should be under the guidance of God. But when the case is clear, then God's word is clear: the person must be pronounced unclean.

On the other hand, though a bright spot may be white, it if did not appear to be deeper than the skin and its hair had not turned white, the priest's judgment must be delayed. The person was to be isolated for seven days. This would not speak of one being put out of fellowship, but only of his being deprived of certain privileges of practical fellowship for the time being until the matter was cleared. If no change had taken place after seven days, then another seven days of probation were added. In that time, if the sore had faded and had not spread, the priest was to pronounce the person clean, and he needed only to wash his clothes.

In verse 6 it has been clear that if the sore suspected of being leprosy had not spread, but faded, the patient was pronounced clean. However, if it had spread, it was a different matter: the priest was then to pronounce the man as leprous (v. 8). So for us today, if evil is at work, it will spread: if not, it will fade. How do we discern this? The surest sign that evil is not active is seen in an attitude of self-judgment. In a case like this, an attitude of self-defense almost always indicates that the evil is spreading. It may take a little time to be able to discern whether there is genuine self-judgment, so that verse 7 indicates that there could seem to be self-judgment when it was not really there. If the same thing surfaced again, even after one was pronounced clean, the priest was again to examine the person and if finding it had spread, was to pronounce him unclean. If a believer falls into the same type of sin after being forgiven, this shows that the root of the matter has not been really judged.

Verses 9 to 11 speak of one who has a leprous sore, and the priest finds that the swelling is white, the hair is white and raw flesh appears in the sore. There is no question in this case: the person is pronounced unclean.

Yet if leprosy were to break out all over the skin, covering the patient from head to foot, and the examination of the priest confirmed this, then the person was pronounced clean (vv. 12-13). This may seem strange, but the spiritual significance is most important, for it speaks of one who has totally judged the sin of the flesh in himself: he is fully exposed before God.

But a caution is added: if raw flesh appeared on the person, he was unclean. The priest must again confirm this by examination and pronounce the person unclean, for raw flesh speaks of sin being active.

This might change again, however, the raw flesh disappearing and the sore becoming white, in which case the priest was to pronounce the patient clean (vv. 16-17). Thus, recovery and restoration are still possible, and priestly discernment should be able to recognize a favorable change in the attitude of one who has before been in a bad condition.

One might have a boil that is healed, yet afterward develop from it a swelling or bright spot. The symptoms of leprosy must again be subject to the priest's examination, and the same principles applied as to discerning whether or not it was leprosy. There are definitely things that differ, as the New Testament also teaches us. “A man overtaken in a fault” (Galatians 6:1) is not the serious case of one who has formed a habit of being an adulterer, covetous, an idolater, a reviler, drunkard or extortioner (1 Corinthians 5:11). In the first case, one needs the restoring help of believers; in the second case it is required that he be put away from the fellowship of saints, though with the object of eventual recovery. Some cases are transparently clear, while others have such difficulty as to require special discernment. For this reason, time was given for the priest to be sure as to the case (v. 21). If after time was given the sore spread, the person was unclean; if there was no spreading the priest pronounced him clean (vv. 22-23).

Leprosy could possibly develop from a burn also (v. 24), in which case the same procedure was to be applied. The priest must examine the victim. If there was any doubt he was to be shut up for seven days, and when doubt was removed, then he was to be pronounced clean or unclean, as the case required (vv. 25-28).

From verse 29 to 37 the matter of suspected leprosy in he head or beard is considered. Similar examination was necessary, and if leprosy were confirmed, the patient was unclean: if not, he was pronounced clean. Leprosy in the head would speak of the intellect being wrongly affected by doctrine that is a perversion of the truth. If it were only a matter of one being mistaken, this could be corrected, but if one is committed to holding a seriously false doctrine and after being labored with to seek to correct him, he is determined not to change, then he is rendered unfit for the fellowship of believers.

Verse 38 and 39 deal with a case where there were no real symptoms of leprosy at all, yet it a question were raised, the priest must examine the person and pronounce him clean. Baldness, whether full or partial, was not to be considered suspect (vv. 40-41). Yet a bald head might develop a sore that must also be examined by the priest as in other cases, with the same care, requiring a decision one way or the other.

THE LEPER PUT OUTSIDE (vv. 45-46)

When any case proved to be leprosy, the priest having pronounced the person unclean, then that person was put outside the camp of Israel, with his clothes torn and his upper lip covered, then required to cry out, “Unclean, Unclean.” Evidently he was to do this if anyone approached him. This compares with a New Testament case of one so seriously involved in sin that he must be put out of the assembly (1 Corinthians 5:11-13).

LEPROSY IN A GARMENT (vv. 47-59)

It may seem strange that leprosy might break out in a garment, and there is evidently no actual case of this recorded in scripture, so that therefore the spiritual significance of it seems the important matter. The garment speaks, not of the person, but of habits. If something appeared suspect in the garment, the priest was to exercise the same care in examination as in the case of a person (vv. 50-51) and if the plague was confirmed as leprosy, the garment was to be burned. Thus we should have priestly discernment as to any habits we may adopt. They may seem at first rather innocent, yet alarming symptoms may appear. If the habit has sin plainly involved in it, we should judge it and totally refuse it.

In some cases there may be only an element in the habit that is questionable, so that, as a piece of a garment might be torn out (v. 56), so the questionable element in any habit should be expunged. But after this, the plague might again appear in the garment, and if so, the garment was to be burned. So, if in a certain habit sin breaks out the second time, the habit is to be fully judged and refused.

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Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Leviticus 13". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/leviticus-13.html. 1897-1910.