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Clean and Unclean (Leviticus 11:1 to Leviticus 15:33 ).
The priesthood having been informed of their responsibility to discern between what was ritually clean and what was ritually unclean (Leviticus 10:10), five chapters now deal with the question in order to provide them with guidance (compare Ezekiel 22:26 for their later failure to do this). The question of clean and unclean brings out Israel’s world view, and stresses the difference between walking with God, and enjoying life and enjoying what is pure, in other words what is ‘clean’, and grovelling in what is ‘unclean’, with its connections with impurity and death, urging men to the former away from the latter.
In order to appreciate the significance of this we need first to recognise what precisely is involved. The purpose behind the idea of cleanness and uncleanness is not mainly hygiene or moral uncleanness. Rather it emphasises in a general way the holiness and perfection of God, and our need to escape from and avoid and rise above degradation and death. We have already seen that sacrifices and offerings are to be ‘perfect’ or ‘without blemish’. This is a pointer to the concept involved. In emphasising what is clean and unclean God seeks only what is totally ‘perfect’, what is wholly right, for Himself and for His people. What is clean is best. What is not clean is not best.
But we must not confuse holiness and ‘cleanness’. Holiness goes much further than cleanness. Things can be clean and not holy. And there are degrees of holiness within the area where all is ‘clean’. For holiness is to do with what God is, and what man’s attitude towards Him is, while cleanness has to do with what man is and with his attitude to his environment. This clearly impinges on holiness, but it is looking at it from a very different angle.
In order to be ‘holy’ enough to enter the tabernacle court men needed to be ritually ‘clean’, but being clean did not render them ‘most holy’. Yet the constant awareness of the need to avoid what was ‘unclean’ in God’s eyes did bring God’s Law very much into the daily lives of the common man. This included both its moral and its ritual requirements. It constantly made them think of what was for their good in accordance with God’s commands, what was ‘clean’, what was wholesome for those who were holy. But there can be no doubt that God also used these distinctions in order to keep them healthy, to let them see that in the uncleanness and decay of much of nature lay unknown dangers, to test their obedience, and to remind them constantly of His holiness.
There are also grounds for recognising that some of the living creatures which were unclean were seen as such because of their connections with various gods, although this may simply be because in their worship men regularly seek what is low. This would tie in with the general principle of perfection and wellbeing. While it is argued that in that case the bull ox would also have been unclean due to its prominence in the Baal religion, the answer to that might simply be that the bull ox had been recognised as clean for so long that it countered any other interpretation.
With, for example, the pig, which was revered and feared in religions elsewhere, the position was different. The black pig was taboo to worshippers of Horus in Egypt because Seth as a black pig had once blinded him. In certain Hittite rituals a pig was slaughtered in order to protect the sacrificers from evil curses. And pigs were associated with certain Syrian-Canaanite cults. This, even if not suggesting it, would certainly have helped to confirm the pig’s uncleanness. And ‘creeping things’ were undoubtedly connected with idolatry in Ezekiel 8:10. But nothing of this is even hinted at in either Leviticus or Deuteronomy so that we can only see it as of subsidiary significance.
The Law depicts Yahweh as supremely holy, that is uniquely ‘set apart’ as One Who is wholly good, wholly righteous, uniquely powerful, and then reveals grades of descent from God’s holiness and perfection into spheres of lesser and lesser holiness (‘set apartness’). This is because man could not fully cope with the full holiness of God.
On the one hand therefore the Law is very much designed to bring out God’s uniqueness and extreme holiness, together with the Priest’s and Israel’s special position before Him, but on the other it reveals intermediate levels of holiness until it comes down to where uncleanness intervenes and then goes on to the other extreme of ‘uncleanness’ which is to do with death and extreme impurity.
God is the living God, and, for Him, to be holy is to be supremely alive and pure. For man to become fully holy would be to become wholly alive and pure, and not only free from all the claims of death, but living positively to the full. For man to miss out on that, even by a fraction, would be to miss out on the very best. But man is far from that. He is weak and failing and that best is so far beyond him that it could only be a distant hope to be brought about by the grace of God. God therefore begins to lead him in ways that will enable him one day eventually, step by step, to understand that best, and this was indeed stated to be the purpose of the Law. It was that man might finally find true life (Leviticus 18:5).
This was to be revealed to him in two ways. Firstly by his coming to appreciate the full holiness of God, an awareness of God’s environment, and of His righteousness and purity (see Isaiah 57:15), and secondly by being made aware of what is wholly clean, what is best and most ‘perfect’ in man’s environment. Thus would his mind be turned towards God. With that in mind let us first consider the levels of holiness.
The Levels of Holiness.
1). There is what is supremely holy, the very ‘Holy of Holies’ (the Most Holy, the Holiest of All) itself, the throne room of the living God, remote from man in the tabernacle, inaccessible to any but the High Priest and he only once a year after complicated rituals of preparation which had made him especially holy. There God had at times revealed something of His glory.
It is the highest level attainable for those on earth, and then was only attainable by the High Priest once a year, and that only for a short while. But it is where Christ has now entered for us, and He has made a way open for us, so that we are so privileged that we may enter the Holiest in Him (Hebrews 10:19). This is the level which we should be enjoying in our fellowship with Him. It requires total commitment and full absorption in God, but for most it is only attained in its fullness at rare times. We may glibly speak of entry into the Holiest. But until we really become aware of the glory and holiness of God we have not really entered. Jesus Christ has made it possible, but like the children of Israel with Moses we ask that His face be veiled. For to see His face would take up too much of our lives.
2). Then there is the next level, what is extremely holy, the Holy Place and what is involved with it, so holy that nothing that pertains to it may remain in the camp outside the Holy Place, except temporarily. It has to be burned in a clean place outside the camp This includes the remains of the purification for sin offerings for priests and for the whole congregation, whose blood is brought into the Holy Place. Only the priests may enter or deal with such matters, and that only when they are ‘clean’ (a basic requirement), when on duty and properly attired, and having washed hands and feet with water to remove even the earthiness of the courtyard, and of things that they have touched. Any part of those offerings is extremely holy. Such extremely holy things must not remain within the Sanctuary precincts nor in the camp. What remains after making the offering must be burned with fire in a clean place outside the camp in order to go to God.
This is a slightly lower level of holiness from that of supreme holiness, enjoyed only by the priests, when they daily trimmed the lamps and offered incense on the altar of incense. But we being made priests in Christ have it opened up to us. It is enjoyed by those whose lives are genuinely fully committed, who walking before Him and in His sight trim the lamps of witness, testimony, and good works (Matthew 5:16), who offer the daily incense of praise and thanksgiving, but have not yet, or only at times, attained the higher level. But they do choose to live totally and completely as priests to God and on behalf of men, revealing it in witness, intercession, prayer, worship and thanksgiving, committing themselves to God as a living sacrifice, and seeking to be wholly acceptable to God. They live in the Holy Place.
3). Then there is what is ‘most holy’. It is not so holy that it is confined to the Holy Place, but it so holy that it must not leave the Sanctuary precincts or be touched by any but the priests. This includes all offerings and sacrifices, once offered, apart from the meat of peace/wellbeing sacrifices, but especially refers to the portions that the priests, and they alone may eat, meat from purification for sin offerings (Leviticus 6:29) and grain from grain offerings (Leviticus 2:10). If anyone apart from a priest touches them that person becomes ‘holy’ and thus subject to the restrictions of priests without actually attaining office (Leviticus 6:18; Leviticus 6:27).
In these days this lower level is attained by those who are set apart in Christ in holiness, who truly serve Him, but who have not yet reached the level of faith of living always in the presence of God. Their faith and dedication needs an upward lift.
4). Then there is what is ‘holy’, but is not so holy that it is not allowed to leave the Sanctuary precincts, for the camp also is holy, although not always fully clean. These holy things may be dealt with in a clean place within the camp. They include the priests’ portions of peace sacrifices, and the flesh of the peace sacrifices returned to the offerer, which must be eaten in a clean place and not by anyone while unclean. They are therefore more holy than the camp.
This is the level of the average Christian who walks with God, seeks to avoid uncleanness and the desires of the flesh, but whose commitment and dedication is not sufficiently full to enjoy the higher blessings.
Up to this point all this holiness has been free from any taint of uncleanness, for participation has only been allowed by those who are ‘clean’. In a sense the camp is the last stage of holiness and is the place where distinctions between clean and unclean begin to impinge. For this is where God’s holy people confront what is less than wholesome, what is less than ‘perfect’, what may come short in one way or another of contributing to their wellbeing.
5). The camp of Israel is holy (Deuteronomy 23:14), but it is of an even lesser holiness than the clean places within the camp, for those who are mildly unclean may remain in it in their tents, and the part in which they are is then unclean until they themselves are clean. And in the same way the nation of Israel, and all who join it within the covenant by circumcision, are holy (Exodus 19:6), for they are God’s covenant people, and yet they may be temporarily unclean. However because they are holy they must seek not to defile themselves by disobedience and by contact with what is unclean, and take whatever precautions are necessary to deal with uncleanness and prevent it affecting the holy. While unclean they are not so holy that they can come in direct contact with the holiness of God.
This is the level of the low level Christian who is satisfied to honour Christ but is also seeking to enjoy life in general and does not want to be too restricted. He wants to be allowed his periods of ‘uncleanness’. He is an ‘also ran’.
6). Then there is outside the camp of Israel. This is not holy, but it is more complicated for it is divided into the clean and the unclean. Firstly there are (undefined) ‘clean places’ (Leviticus 4:12; Leviticus 6:11) where what is extremely holy may be burned and where the ashes from the altar of burnt offering may be deposited. Secondly there are places which cannot be unclean, for men can go there without becoming unclean, and clean animals rove there without becoming unclean. But as with the camp unclean things impinge there. Thirdly there are places which are unclean because unclean people, non-Israelites, live there who do not observe the rules of cleanness and uncleanness. Fourthly there are places which are unclean because they are the haunts of what is unclean. There there is much which is unclean, with which even indirect contact must be avoided. And fifthly there are unclean and defiled places (Leviticus 14:40-41; Leviticus 14:45) where death and uncleannesses must be put and must remain. Man’s excrement, for example, must be put in a designated special place outside the camp (Deuteronomy 23:13-14 compare Leviticus 5:3) and must be buried there, as must the building materials of buildings condemned for certain fungi and rotting (Leviticus 14:40; Leviticus 14:45). We are not given details of these places, only their function. It may be that they were simply designated areas for refuse.
On the whole the inhabited world outside ‘the camp’ and outside later ‘Israel’, was probably seen as unholy, and as largely ‘unclean’, except possibly for the land suitable for grazing, arable land and pasture in the wilderness (not, of course, too strictly defined), for even in generally unclean lands, these were presumably seen as mildly clean, otherwise clean wild animals would become unclean.
But the ground was cursed in Genesis 3:17, and the snake was cursed ‘above all cattle and above every beast of the field’, and sentenced to grovel in the dirt, to ‘eat the dust’ (Genesis 3:14), a phrase which at a minimum indicated something totally low, ignominious and unpleasant. And this ground would only yield man his food after great and laborious effort. He would have to restore it to usefulness. It had become his adversary. And the dust was what man would return to (Genesis 3:19), it was the dust of lifelessness and death above which man had been raised, but only for a time. He would return to it in death. Thus what lived in the dust of the ground was unclean.
This ties in with chapter 11 here for a separation was made in Genesis 1-3 along similar lines to here, between animals both wild and domestic, and the other land creatures, and creeping things which grovelled in the dust, which thus became unclean, together with the birds of the air and the fish of the sea (Genesis 1:20-21; Genesis 1:24-25; Genesis 1:29-30). The intention was that all would eat vegetation or ‘green herbs’ (Genesis 1:30). It would seem that that was seen as the ideal and that those that began to subsist on other things become ‘unclean’, although later man’s right to eat of animals is confirmed (Genesis 9:3), but he would be expected to use discernment.
In Genesis 2:19-20 it is only the cattle, the wild beasts and the birds which are seen as within man’s domain, and in Genesis 3:14 we come across ‘cattle’, ‘beasts of the countryside’ and a reptile, the latter despatched to lurk in the dust as a punishment. It should not therefore surprise us if animals which nuzzle in the dust, and reptiles and creatures that live in the dust and never rise above it are seen as especially unclean, and even more ‘creeping things’, for the dust is what man who dies will return to. It is the dust of death (Psalms 22:15; Psalms 22:29; Psalms 30:9; Psalms 104:29; Ecclesiastes 3:20; Daniel 12:2). To ‘cleave to the dust’ was considered to be the same as dying (Psalms 119:25). It was a world of death. And while the curse was partly relieved by God’s covenant with Noah as far as man was concerned (Genesis 9:21), which might explain why grazing land and arable land could be seen as ‘clean’, it certainly did not remove the whole curse. Thorns and thistles are still man’s bain. The earth is still man’s adversary and seeks ever to return to the wild or to desert. And all this was closely linked with death (Genesis 3:19; Genesis 5:5), which was the final sentence.
The same distinctions are mainly found in the story of the flood (Genesis 7:8; Genesis 7:14; Genesis 7:21; Genesis 7:23; Genesis 8:19), but there we are introduced to clean and unclean animals and birds, only the clean of which can be sacrificed (Leviticus 7:2; Leviticus 8:20).
It is possible that the ‘clean places’ as in Leviticus 4:12; Leviticus 6:11 are those where it is considered that death does not usually take place and where man’s and animal’s uncleanness would not have reached, thus remote almost inaccessible spots, but they are never defined specifically, and it may be that they were places especially set aside and cleansed, (although if this is so it is never mentioned). But the fact that there could be these ‘clean places’ suggests that the created world was originally seen as fundamentally clean, (God saw that it was good), but as having been largely defiled by death and uncleanness, that which is related to opposition to God.
But in terms of living things only Israel, and those who worship Yahweh, are now holy and that because cleansed by God, while certain animal, birds and fish are ‘clean’, and can therefore be eaten, but they are not spoken of as holy. To be holy is to be in a relationship with God, or to be God’s special possession.
We could see ‘outside the camp’ as largely signifying the level of those who are not in Christ. Some are relatively ‘cleaner’ than others, but none are in the camp and holy to God.
Connected with these degrees of holiness that we have described therefore, and at the bottom end, we must fit in the ideas of what is ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’. These things affect holiness but are not the same thing. They are to do with man’s contact with the world through his body. Nothing of this uncleanness is ever to be brought into contact with the tabernacle. To do so deliberately would be to warrant death. If discovered as occurring unwittingly it will require guilt offerings (Leviticus 5:2-3).
And while mild uncleanness is allowed in the camp, the camp too must be kept separate from it, and the aim is always to be rid of any such uncleanness as quickly as feasible. Meanwhile it must be contained within the tent, and by avoiding contact with others.
It should be noted that something can be clean but not holy. But it cannot be unclean and holy. This is especially so with regard to food. Food that is unclean must be abhorred by Israel. It will defile the holiness of any of the people involved with it. It will make them less whole and pure. Thus it is necessary to distinguish between clean and unclean foods. But certain animals are seen as ‘clean’ wherever they are, unless they have been defiled in some way. Thus to be ‘clean’ is not the same thing as to be holy. However the converse is true, what is ‘unclean’ is not holy, and at least to some extent defiles holiness.
And at the bottom end of uncleanness are things that defile the land, murder, adultery, idolatry and so on (Leviticus 18:6-27; Leviticus 20:2-22). These are the extremes of ‘uncleanness’. Those who do such things must be cut off. Their end is death, for death is the final end of uncleanness. So if their bodies are hung on a tree in order to disgrace them, they are not to stay there overnight, for it would render the land unclean because they are accursed by God. Thus they must be buried (Deuteronomy 21:23). It was for such uncleannesses that Israel would be finally expelled from the land (Leviticus 18:25).
So cleanness and uncleanness refer to men’s relationship to themselves and to the world, and how they react to the world, although they do also affect their position before God. And as will be seen there are certain basic rules regarding the cleanness of living things, and they have a certain logic to them. If fully followed out they would undoubtedly have contributed to human health, but that, at least humanly speaking, would not be seen as their main purpose, and it does not mean that all unclean things are always physically unhealthy for humans, only that they would be ill advised to partake of them because of how often they are. But the main reson why they must not eat of them is because God has not appointed them for men. Abstaining from them is a sign of being God’s men and women.
Men like Moses may well have learned certain basic medical rules from observation. But a detailed individual diet list giving individual ‘clean’ items would have been neither wise or practical, and would have been observed more in the breach than in the fulfilment, and one is not given. Nor was this the main purpose of establishing things as clean, although from a health point of view there is no doubt that avoiding unclean things would have contributed to good health.
The real significance of cleanness and uncleanness was with regard to ‘perfection’ and ‘imperfection’, to ‘wholeness’ and ‘unwholeness’, to making men ritually ‘without blemish’. The aim was to keep God’s people involved only with what was ‘perfect’, with what was pleasing to God, and this would result in their being ritually and morally clean as they lived to do His will, rising above what was most unpleasant in the world. It meant avoiding all that was unclean in any way, however seemingly desirable, and, when they fell short it, involved their going through the necessary process for the removal of that uncleanness. For what was unclean was in general harmful, and would remove them from the state of wholeness that should be theirs, so that if possible the situation had to be rectified. If it was not rectified they would be removed from the camp, for anything other than temporary uncleanness would defile the camp and make it unholy.
We have already observed the constant necessity for the removal of sin, and of all breaches of the covenant, which was a special kind of unholiness to do with ritual and moral failure. We now see the requirement also to be ‘clean’ in everything in relationship with creation.
To summarise we may consider the various levels of humanity (if we leave Moses out of account who was unique). There is first the High Priest, then the priests, then the blemished priests. The first can enter the Holy of Holies, the second the Holy Place and the third can partake of what is most holy, but cannot enter the Holy Place. These in descending order can deal with ‘most holy’ things as long as they are ‘clean’. Then come the people when clean, allowed into the tabernacle court, then the people when temporarily unclean, and not allowed,while unclean, in the tabernacle court, and then the people who are blemished who cannot enter the tabernacle court. But all these may remain in the camp. Then come the people unclean and excluded from the camp but kept within range, for whom worship can be conducted and offerings made. And then finally come outsiders not connected with the camp. All these described are as a whole split into clean and unclean. Any of these who are rendered unclean, even the High Priest, must not enter the Sanctuary precincts while unclean. None who are blemished may ever do so. Although they, and ‘strangers’, may offer sacrifices and offerings. They are not excluded from God (Numbers 15:14; Numbers 15:16). Only the High Priest and the unblemished priests may enter the Holy Place as long as they are ‘clean’. Only the ritually ‘clean’ may enter the tabernacle court. But in all cases, from highest to lowest, all approaches are only through offerings and sacrifices. To be clean was not to be sinless.
One important lesson we should learn from all this is that God is not to be approached lightly. Those who would know Him fully must recognise His purity and truth and come to Him in purity and truth, and must therefore recognise and acknowledge their need for cleansing, for atonement and forgiveness, and for cleanness of life from all that is unclean. The exclusion of the blemished (what is not perfect) is not intended as a slight on them, but as a reminder of the supremely perfect and unblemishes being of God.
As we go through the laws of uncleanness we will discover a pattern based on the first five chapters of Genesis. The tradition behind Genesis was Scripture for the people of Israel under Moses. It dealt with the roots of life, leading up to the promises given to Abraham. In Genesis 1:0 the world was created, and with it all living creatures. In Genesis 2:0 God prepared man’s dwelling place on earth, and set him over all cattle, wild beasts and birds. And he walked naked, authoritative and tall, and was not ashamed. But what crept on the ground was not said to be submissive to him. And in Genesis 3:0 this was evidenced when mankind fell into sin, deceived by the serpent, and the serpent was cursed and was sentenced to the dust, and the woman who first sinned was punished in the very thing that was dearest to her, the ability to conceive, and the ground which produced man’s food was cursed.
So we have in descending order, God, man, animals and birds, creeping things of the ground, the latter outside man’s control.
From now on man had to be clothed, and God made for him suitable clothing. Then man was sentenced to be cast from the Garden, excluded from the place where God had walked with him. He was unclean. He would no longer be ‘in the camp’, but was cast out, and the world would abundantly produce thorns and thistles to hinder his labours. This was when he was first introduced to clothing to hide his nakedness.
But then came a new beginning, when man triumphed and was restored into fellowship with God as Abel offered his ‘gifts’ to Him. Man could once more enjoy God’s blessing. But Cain slew Abel and then went away and built the first houses in his ‘city’, and his line was built up as a result of their sexual responses. Meanwhile godly man began to ‘call on the name of Yahweh’, and thus in chapter 5 we have the line of men who were born, and lived and died, again the result of sexual responses, both good and bad.
It is surely not a coincidence that the laws of uncleanness follow this pattern. Leviticus 11:0 connects with Genesis 1-3. Leviticus 12:0 connects with the punishment of the woman in Genesis 3:16. Leviticus 13:1-46 connects with the casting out of the man from the Garden in Genesis 3:17-19 with Genesis 3:23-24. Leviticus 13:47-59; Leviticus 13:47-59 connects with God’s provision of their first clothing in Genesis 3:21. Leviticus 14:1-32; Leviticus 14:1-32 connects with the restoration of fellowship and the new beginning in Genesis 4:0, and Leviticus 14:33-53 connects with ‘the building of a city’ on arrival in the land also as in Genesis 4:17. And finally Leviticus 15:0 deals with the means of reproduction and the organs of reproduction as illustrated in Genesis 4:18 and Genesis 5:1-32). We might then see Leviticus 16:0, with its emphasis on the great Day of Atonement, which gave Israel a new beginning every year, as reflected in the story of the Flood when God decided to make a new beginning, and enabled man to begin again, by sacrificing clean animals and birds on an altar. He gave them a new start, as He would now give Israel one, once a year.
So with all this in mind let us now consider this chapter, which deals with what food is clean and may therefore be freely enjoyed by the people, and will not make them unclean, and what is unclean and should be avoided for one reason or another. But one warning. The purpose of these restrictions was not in order to be a list of all harmless foods, although they certainly did prevent the eating of many harmful foods, nor was it in order to declare that what was unclean was necessarily bad in itself, it was in order to set apart His people from all others, and to lift them up from the squalor of the world and from the taint of death. It was to make them holy. It was in order to lift them above all that was degrading, and to keep them living before Him in purity, and in recognition that death and all connected with it is the very opposite of all that God is. It was to ensure their wellbeing and their wholesomeness. It was to keep them out of the dust of death (Psalms 22:15; Psalms 22:29; Psalms 30:9; Psalms 104:29; Ecclesiastes 3:20; Daniel 12:2).
Thus God’s aim is to keep His people from all that is unholy, that is, from all that is in general terms unlike Himself, all that was not created specifically for man’s benefit, and all that might be harmful either spiritually or physically, and it was especially to separate him from the taint of death.
In going into the world His people would inevitably occasionally become ‘unclean’, but provision was now made for the conscious removal of this uncleanness, and warnings given not to deliberately step beyond the bounds laid down. For disobedience is the ultimate uncleanness.
It will be noted in what follows that the creatures that are ‘clean’ are those that are (as seen by the Israelites) wholly grazing animals, still eaters of herbs (Genesis 1:30), and not predators (death-dealers) and blood-eaters; or are those that swim in the open water well away from the dirt and the mud; or are those that eat vegetation and leap and are not tied to crawl on the earth. Each keeps to its proper sphere. In no case therefore do they do lurk and crawl in dirt and filth, among the dust that the snake was to grovel in, and to which man, when he ceased to be man and became an empty shell with its breath withdrawn, would return. And to which the carcases of all beasts would return. That was the realm of death. This must be seen from a ‘common knowledge’ aspect, not as a naturalist. It is the basic ideas that are being conveyed.
There is an important lesson here for Christians. We too can enter the Holiest of All through the blood of Jesus. We too can gather together to worship in holiness, having a ‘rarified’ time. But we too cannot enter God’s presence until cleansed. We too have to go out into the world and must choose between what is wholesome and what is degraded, and must avoid what is degrading and choose the wholesome. This is all a warning to us to discern between what is spiritually clean and what is spiritually unclean (2 Corinthians 7:1), although not necessarily in the terms laid out in what follows. For as Jesus pointed out, it is what is in the heart of man that is really unclean (Mark 7:18-23). And for us too the depths of uncleanness is murder, adultery and idolatry.
Chapter 13 Uncleanness Caused By Skin Diseases.
Up to this point the cleanness and uncleanness described has firstly related to the whole of Israel, and then to the whole of the womenfolk of Israel. Now it comes down to individual cases. Once again we detect a look back to the Genesis story. Chapter 11 has looked at the effects of the curse on men and food provision, chapter 12 has looked at the effects of the curse on women and child-birth, now we see the effects of the curse on individuals because of sin, sin not necessarily wholly their own. When Adam and Eve sinned they were expelled from the Fruitful Plain of Eden. They were excluded because now they were mortal, dying people, because they were diseased with sin, because they were no longer fit to meet with God and walk with Him daily.
In a similar way those who had serious skin disease were to be declared unclean, were to be declared to be the living dead, were to be expelled from the camp of Israel. For that serious skin disease rendered them ‘unclean’, unfit to return to the camp of Israel, unfit to approach God in the tabernacle. They were seen as like Adam and Eve once they had sinned. They were cast out from God’s intimate presence.
In this case the few suffered visibly as representatives of the whole. All Israel were dressed in polluted garments (Isaiah 64:6). Spiritually all were unclean. But the plague only came on some as a warning to the whole. That it was the consequence of the fall no one would doubt. They would see in this diseased remnant of the children of Israel the particular mark of the fall, and that the whole were only spared by the grace of God.
For the world having been affected by man’s fall, it was inevitable that disease would raise its head, and disease is regularly seen in the Old Testament as the punishment on the world due for sin. And certain special types of disease, as outlined in this chapter, were seen as marking the sinner off as outside the ‘perfection’ of God. The disease that resulted from sin was seen to have laid its visible mark on those involved. The diseases were a diminishing of the life that was in that person. They rendered him ‘unclean’. There were thus always going to be those whose sickness drew attention to the deserved consequence of the fall, to the fact that unwholeness excluded men from God. It may be that this was seen as illustrating the ‘mark of Cain’ (Genesis 4:15). Some have seen that as referring to some terrible skin disease. He was the one who was ‘cast out of the camp’ and then formed his own camp.
Such skin diseases were in fact specifically threatened as a punishment for those who failed to walk faithfully in the covenant (Deuteronomy 28:27; Deuteronomy 28:59-61; Isaiah 1:6; Isaiah 3:17; Psalms 38:3), and thus those who had them were looked on as though they must be especially sinful, even though it might not be so. They were actually the few who were the warning to the many. The diseases, if he had them, could prevent a priest from entering into the Holy Place to ‘offer the bread of his God’ (Leviticus 21:20). They made people ‘unclean’ because they were blemished, coming short of God’s requirement of ‘perfection’. They diminished men and women and were a sign of decay, and dying flesh. When Miriam was stricken with skin disease because of her sin Aaron pleaded for her with Moses and asked that that she should ‘not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he comes out of his mother’s womb’ (Numbers 12:11-12). He did not want her to be half a person.
Thus the prime significance of this uncleanness to Israel was that the unclean person was excluded from the sphere of holiness all the time that they were unclean. They were blemished, they were not fully alive, they were outside the state in which they should have been, the state of the normal. Like Adam and Eve they were thrust out from God’s holy place and God’s holy camp. The central thought was not that they were infectious and might pass the disease on, although that was often true, it was that they in themselves came short of God’s required ‘perfection’, and were thus excluded from holy places, and in the worst cases from the holy camp. In this they were not being punished, or even treated medically, they were being judged religiously. Their presence would defile holiness. This brought home the terrible nature of the judgment it expressed. The sin that was responsible for such diseases excluded men from the presence of God.
The sinfulness was not necessarily that of the person involved, although all were in fact sinners. The point was not so much of punishing the individual, but as seeing skin diseases in general as evidence of God’s displeasure and judgment on men as a whole, and on Israel in particular. They were the result of living in a fallen world. The whole of Israel and the whole of the world should have been plagued. It was only God’s extreme mercy and grace that enabled them to become a people separated off for God, a ‘holy nation’, because He had chosen to love them, and because it was a part of the plan that would lead up to His Son, the Messiah, coming into the world. In His mercy God restrained the plague to the few so that they could be an example and a warning to the many.
Specific examples are given in Scripture where the disease was related to specific sin ( Num 12:10 ; 2 Kings 5:27; 2 Chronicles 26:19-21). But this does not signify that all such related to specific sin. There was no suggestion of blame in the case of Naaman. In its central message the individual was unimportant. When the house of Pharaoh was plagued it was not for deliberate sin of which they were aware, but it was for sin nevertheless (Genesis 12:17). And Solomon related the coming of plagues on Israel to sin, which he connected with the plague of men’s hearts (1 Kings 8:37-39), from which God would deliver them. The plagues revealed that for all men sin would keep them from God.
To Israel the resulting way in which those affected were treated was an indication that those who bore the sign of Yahweh’s displeasure (not necessarily for their own sin), and whose insufficiency defiled in any way the holiness of God, would be ‘expelled from the camp’ until that sign was removed. They were thus seen as continual evidence to those who came in and out of the camp of God’s judgment against sin, and a dreadful warning to others of what sin could bring about in men’s lives. Their condition cried out, ‘we have been expelled from the camp because of our unfitness, our lack of perfectness, our uncleanness’, as God will one day expel all who disobey Him. Every person with serious skin disease who left the camp was an example of what too would happen to Israel if they did not obey God’s covenant and walk in His ways.
Thus the emphasis of this law of uncleanness on the consequences of becoming ‘unclean’ was a ‘gee up’ message to Israel to ensure that this did not happen to them.
However there can be no question but that the law also served another purpose. Unknowingly in acting as priests the priests were also acting as medical specialists. They were discerning infectious diseases and quarantining, either temporarily in a safe place in the camp, or more permanently by putting out of the camp, those who might pass such diseases on. Thus as with other cases of cleanness and uncleanness a double purpose was served. But they were not doctors. Nor did they treat all infectious diseases in such a severe way, for they did not know of them. They had no cures and they simply followed their instructions letter by letter. Their main purpose was to protect the holiness of Yahweh and of His people. Skin diseases were useful for the purpose because they were plainly visible.
The word used for skin disease is sara’ath. It means ‘becoming diseased in the skin’ and therefore covers a variety of scaly skin diseases. It would be quite wrong to limit it to what we know of today as leprosy, and some deny that leprosy was in mind at all. We have translated it ‘suspicious skin disease’, for that summed up what it was. No one would actually know what it was, they would simply know whether or not it was a type that made the man permanently unclean, and act accordingly, although no doubt as they gained in experience they would give names to different types and begin to recognise them more easily. But all were seen as the mark of sin.
Seven types of infectious skin diseases have been discerned in Leviticus 13:1-44: skin eruptions (Leviticus 13:2-8), chronic skin disease (Leviticus 13:9-17), boils or ulcers (Leviticus 13:18-23), burns (Leviticus 13:24-28), sores (Leviticus 13:29-37), rashes (Leviticus 13:38-39), and baldness (Leviticus 13:40-44). Most who came for such examination would have minor skin complaints and would go away relieved. Others would find themselves put in isolation to see if the complaint healed up, and would wait in dread for the priest’s next visit and his verdict. If they were then found to be clean they would be overjoyed. But the unfortunate ones would find that they had a serious and permanent skin disease, and that for them life was as good as over.
There is much disagreement about the particular types of disease represented by the symptoms. Agreement is hard to find, and we must remember that they are not necessarily identifiable with modern skin diseases. But that does not really matter except as a sop to our curiosity. The message comes over whatever they were.
In seeking to identify the different conditions some do point to leprosy as being one probability, and some of the symptoms would tie in with this, but there are numerous other possibilities, and although cases of leprosy are known in the area in ancient times, modern opinion is in general against it being so prevalent, and we would probably be wrong to see this as central to the conditions described, although it may well be seen as among them.
Others have identified in the later diseases described, among other things psoriasis, a chronic, non-infectious skin disease characterised by the presence of well-demarcated, slightly raised reddish patches of various sizes covered by dry greyish-white or silvery scales, and favus, a much more severe and damaging infection connected with ring-worm in which the fungus invades both the hair and the full thickness of the skin. Others refer to leucoderma, a slightly disfiguring condition in which patches of otherwise normal skin lose their natural colouring and become completely white. All three are possibly in mind, along with other skin diseases.
But it must be recognised that the priest is not trying to identify the particular skin disease. He is simply following divine instructions to discover whether a man’s symptoms show him to be ‘clean’ or ‘unclean’, and whether he has to be quarantined or excluded from the camp. His whole concern is strictly with maintaining the greater holiness of the tabernacle and the lesser holiness of the camp.
Behind the laws we may see a reference to man in his sinfulness. All of us from birth are diseased with sin. It is a disease that grows and spreads and penetrates deep within, and it produces its scars without. And the choice is laid before each one of us. Either we come to Christ, the One Who can cleanse us from sin and root it out from within us, presenting us perfect before God (Hebrews 10:14), or we will be ‘cast out of the camp’, with no place in God’s presence. And once we are His the situation continues. The Christian cannot again allow sin to penetrate deep within, or spread. It must be dealt with immediately. For the sin that penetrates deep and spreads is deadly and if not dealt with will result in our rejection.
It is thus necessary for all of us to continually come to our great High Priest, Jesus Christ, for examination. But the difference between ourselves and the Israelites is that we have a Great Physician Who is able to heal that is wrong within us. For the Israelite the examinations were in order to keep Israel as a whole ‘holy’. They had no means of healing those with serious skin diseases. They were there as a warning to the whole of what sin could do. But for us the situation is different. We can each come personally and not only discover our state but have it dealt with. Not one of the new ‘Israel’ ever needs to be cast out, only their sin.
This Is The Word Of Yahweh (Leviticus 13:1 ).
‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying,’
Here Aaron is for the second time included with Moses in receiving the word of Yahweh (compare Leviticus 11:1), and will be again in Leviticus 14:33 and Leviticus 15:1. This suggests that at times he approached Yahweh in Moses’ company, although never as the prime person. In spite of his status he could not outrank Moses. But here he was present as a witness to what God said. Judging by the Book of Numbers, where Aaron is not conjoined with Moses in this way until after the confirmation of Aaron’s position in Numbers 18:0, it was prior to the arrival in Kadesh.
Dealing With Skin Eruptions (Leviticus 13:2-8 ).
“When a man shall have in the skin of his flesh a rising, or a scab, or a bright spot, and it become in the skin of his flesh the plague of a suspicious skin disease, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest, or to one of his sons the priests, and the priest shall look on the plague in the skin of the flesh, and if the hair in the plague be turned white, and the appearance of the plague be deeper than the skin of his flesh, it is the plague of a suspicious skin disease, and the priest shall look on him, and pronounce him unclean.”
If a man discovers that he has a skin eruption he is required to report it to the priests. This is because it, temporarily at least, makes it dangerous for him to enter the tabernacle court in case he is not a whole person, in case he is ‘unclean’. The priests will then examine it, and if the hair in the eruption or spot has turned white and the eruption or spot appears to be more than skin deep they are to declare it a suspicious skin disease, possibly a type of leprosy.
“And if the bright spot be white in the skin of his flesh, and the appearance of it is not deeper than the skin, and its hair is not turned white, then the priest shall shut up the one who has the plague seven days, and the priest shall look on him on the seventh day, and, behold, if in his eyes the plague be at a standstill, and the plague be not spread in the skin, then the priest shall shut him up seven days more, and the priest shall look on him again the seventh day, and, behold, if the plague be dim, and the plague be not spread in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him clean. It is a scab: and he shall wash his clothes, and be clean.”
On the other hand if the hair in the plague spot is not white, and the eruption or spot does not appear to go deep they are to put him in quarantine for seven days and then view it again. Then they must re-examine it, and if it has still not changed they must quarantine him for a further seven days, and if after the fourteen days it appears no worse, but rather a little better, he declares it to be only a scab and declares the man clean. All the man has to do then is to wash his clothes and be clean. One reason for this, of course, is in case the scab has affected the clothes while he has been waiting. But the ritual reason would be in order to remove from him the taint of the place where he was in quarantine, and to reveal him as ‘clean’.
“But if the scab spread abroad in the skin, after he has shown himself to the priest for his cleansing, he shall show himself to the priest again, and the priest shall look; and, behold, if the scab be spread in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean: it is a suspicious skin disease.”
On the other hand, if the scab spreads while he is in quarantine, or even after he has been released, the man must immediately call for the priest, who will re-examine it, and if he sees that it has spread he must declare the man unclean.
The main point of this process as far as the priests were concerned was that it protected the holiness of the Sanctuary, and of Israel, but the second benefit as far as Israel was concerned was that a man with a suspicious skin disease would either be cleared, or would be removed from the camp so as to prevent infection.
Daily we too should bring ourselves for examination before our great High Priest, Jesus Christ. We must ask ourselves, ‘if I come up for examination before Him with Whom we have to do, what is there in me that will reveal me as unwhole, imperfect, unclean, fit only to be cast out of His presence? And if there is present sin which goes deep or is spreading we must bring it to Him for Him to deal with. We must seek for the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, to cleanse us from all sin (1 John 1:7). Then we can come for our further examination without fear. The plague will have been stayed and we will have been made clean. It will turn out that our sin, while disfiguring, was but a scab on something quickly healed by the Great Physician and as quickly dealt with. Although in many cases the scab may remain.
Dealing With Chronic Skin Diseases (Leviticus 13:9-17 ).
‘When the plague of a suspicious skin disease is in a man, then he shall be brought to the priest, and the priest shall look, and, behold, if there be a white rising in the skin, and it has turned the hair white, and there be quick raw flesh in the rising, it is an old suspicious skin disease in the skin of his flesh, and the priest shall pronounce him unclean. He shall not shut him up, for he is unclean.”
In this case the man or his relatives are suspicious about some symptom that has occurred in someone who has previously been cleared of skin disease, because it look so inflamed, so they bring him to the priest. The priest will then check it and if he discovers that there is a white rising in the skin which has turned the hair white, and also an inflamed rising elsewhere in the skin, he must immediately declare him unclean. Quick action needs to be taken. He is not to be quarantined within the camp but immediately put out of the camp.
‘And if the suspicious skin disease breaks out abroad in the skin, and the suspicious skin disease covers all the skin of him who has the plague from his head even to his feet, as far as appears to the priest, then the priest shall look, and, behold, if the suspicious skin disease has covered all his flesh, he shall pronounce him clean who has the disease: it is all turned white. He is clean.”
On the other hand if in fact he discovers that the skin disease has spread to cover the whole of his body from head to foot it is clearly something harmless and he can be declared clean. It may simply be due to a lack of pigmentation.
“But whenever raw flesh appears in him, he shall be unclean. And the priest shall look on the raw flesh, and pronounce him unclean. The raw flesh is unclean. It is a suspicious skin disease.”
But whenever raw flesh appears the situation changes, the man is declared unclean.
“Or if the raw flesh change again, and be changed to white, then he shall come to the priest, and the priest shall look on him, and, behold, if the plague be turned into white, then the priest shall pronounce him clean who has the disease. He is clean.”
But if the raw flesh then changes again and becomes white the priest can alter the diagnosis and proclaim him clean. So ‘raw flesh’ that remains raw flesh and gets worse is clearly the test. If it does so the man is unclean, if it dies down the man is clean.
The constant repetition stresses the need for us to continually examine ourselves before our Great High Priest. There are many different types of sin by which we can be affected. What is there about us that would draw attention to our plagued condition? Let us quickly respond to it and rid ourselves of it that we might be truly ‘clean’.
We must distinguish between what is superficial and does not really affect us at all, giving only an appearance of sin, what is not truly sin within (although we should still avoid the appearance of sin - 1 Thessalonians 5:22), not filling our thoughts with trivialities, and what is more serious and becomes ‘raw flesh’, inflamed and deep. If the latter is at all true of us we need quickly to ensure that we come to the Great Physician and seek His remedy. Then we will be able to be declared clean.
Dealing With Boils/Ulcers (Leviticus 13:18-23 ).
“And when the flesh has a boil in its skin, and it is healed, and in the place of the boil there is a white rising, or a bright spot, reddish-white, then it shall be shown to the priest, and the priest shall look; and, behold, if the its appearance be deeper than the skin, and its hair be turned white, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean. It is a suspicious skin disease. It has broken out in the boil.”
If a man has a boil (or ulcer) he also must come to the priest with it. No man must enter the court of the tabernacle with such a boil unless it has been checked. And if the boil has subsided and has been replaced by a white rising or a bright reddish-white spot, and it goes deeper than the skin and the hairs have turned white, the priest must declare him unclean. He has a suspicious skin disease as a result of the boil.
“But if the priest look on it, and, behold, there are no white hairs in it, and it is not deeper than the skin, but is uninflamed, then the priest shall shut him up seven days, if it spread abroad in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean: it is a suspicious disease. But if the bright spot stay in its place, and be not spread, it is the scar of the boil; and the priest shall pronounce him clean.”
On the other hand if there are no white hairs in it, and it is not deeper than the skin, but appears uninflamed, then the priest must quarantine him for seven days, and if he then finds it has spread abroad he must declare the man unclean, but if there is no spread it is merely the scar of the boil. The man can then be declared clean.
We are all aware how quickly a boil can spring up. One moment we seem to be well and whole, and then suddenly there it is, often a sign that all is not really well with us. And sin springs up just as quickly, and often that too is evidence of even more sin. We must be as quick to take our ‘boils’ to the Master, as these men were to take themselves before the priest, for if we do not our boil may become worse, and end in marring our whole lives.
Dealing With Burns (Leviticus 13:24-28 ).
“Or when the flesh has a burn from a fire on its skin, and the live part of the burn becomes a bright spot, reddish-white, or white, then the priest shall look on it, and, behold, if the hair in the bright spot is turned white, and its appearance is deeper than the skin; it is a suspicious skin disease. It has broken out as a result of the burn, and the priest shall pronounce him unclean. It is a suspicious skin disease.”
When a man has a severe burn which results in a bright reddish-white or white spot, he must again consult the priest. The priest will then examine it. If the hair on the bright spot has turned white, and appears to be more than skin deep, it is a suspicious skin disease. It has arise because of the burn, and he will be declared unclean.
“But if the priest looks on it, and, behold, there is no white hair in the bright spot, and it is no deeper than the skin, but is uninflamed, then the priest shall shut him up seven days, and the priest shall look on him on the seventh day, and if it spread abroad in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean. It is a suspicious skin disease. And if the bright spot stay in its place, and is not spread in the skin, but is uninflamed; it is the rising of the burn, and the priest shall pronounce him clean. For it is the scar of the burn.”
On the other hand if the priest examines it and there is no white hair in the bright spot, and it is no more than skin deep, and is uninflamed, then the priest must quarantine him for seven days, and if then the spot has spread abroad the man must be declared unclean. But if it has not spread abroad but remains as it is and is uninflamed, it is merely the rising of the burn and he can be declared clean. It is simply the scar of the burn.
A burn is regularly the result of carelessness. But one moment of carelessness has resulted in this person having to go into quarantine and live in fear of an adverse verdict. How careless are we about sin? That makes us unwhole as well. How grateful we should be that the result is not for us a period of doubt as to whether all will be well, because for us there is instant forgiveness if our repentance is genuine. We can come immediately to the Great Physician and He will make us whole, but it means avoiding ‘burns’ in the future.
Dealing With Sores (Leviticus 13:29-37 ).
“And when a man or woman has a plague on the head or on the beard, then the priest shall look on the plague, and, behold, if its appearance is deeper than the skin, and there is yellow thin hair in it, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean. It is an itch. It is a suspicious skin disease of the head or of the beard.”
This is not just a ‘suspicious skin disease’ but a suspected ‘plague’. It could be favus or psoriasis. The person has an itch on their head or beard. If it seems to go below the skin and there is yellowish thin hair in it, then the person is proclaimed unclean. It is a suspicious skin disease, the suspicion being that it will be permanent.
“And if the priest look on the plague, and, behold, its appearance is not deeper than the skin, and there is no black hair in it, then the priest shall shut up the one who has the plague for seven days, and on the seventh day the priest shall look on the disease, and, behold, if the itch has not spread, and there is no yellow hair in it, and the appearance of the itch is not deeper than the skin, then he shall be shaved, but will not shave the itch, and the priest shall shut up the one who has the itch for seven days more, and on the seventh day the priest shall look on the itch, and, behold, if the itch has not spread in the skin, and its appearance is not deeper than the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him clean, and he shall wash his clothes, and be clean.”
But if the plague does not go deeper than the skin, and there are no black hairs in it the person is to be quarantined for seven days, after which the priest will look at it again, and if the itch has still not spread and there are no yellowish hairs in it, and it does not go more than skin deep, the person may shave everywhere but where the itch is. Thus up to this time they have not been allowed to shave, and the men at least would be feeling very uncomfortable and shabby. But once they have shaved something of their self-confidence will be restored. This is another indication of God’s concern for the details of our lives.
Then they will be quarantined for another seven days. If on this second viewing the itch has still not spread in the skin, and it does not appear to be more than skin deep, the person is pronounced clean. They must wash their clothes and will then be clean.
“But if the itch spreads abroad in the skin after his cleansing, then the priest shall look on him; and, behold, if the itch has spread in the skin, the priest shall not seek for the yellow hair, he is unclean. But if in his eyes the itch is at a standstill and black hair has grown up in it, the itch is healed, he is clean, and the priest shall pronounce him clean.”
But if the person comes back and says that the itch is spreading that is all that is required for him to be declared unclean and excluded from the camp. The priest, however, with his experience may consider that the itch has not spread, and if he sees that new black hair has grown on the itch the person will be pronounced clean.
Sin can be like an itch. And when it begins to itch it is in order to remind us to go to our great High Priest, Jesus Christ, for the itch may be the symptom of something deeper. It needs to be examined before Him so as to ensure what is its cause and that it is properly dealt with. This person may in fact have judged his own position harshly, but the priest with his experience had saved him from the consequences of his error. We too sometimes judge ourselves too harshly. How good it is then when we learn from the Master that He is satisfied with us as we are. We often think that we have become so unclean, that there is little hope for us now, but He assures us that He has dealt with any uncleanness, and that really He is pleased with our progress, and that if we will but trust Him He will see us through. He is the One Who makes holy (Hebrews 2:11). We need to be able to learn to accept forgiveness and to respond to His work within (Philippians 2:13).
Dealing With Rashes (Leviticus 13:38-39 ).
“And when a man or a woman has in the skin of the flesh bright spots, even white bright spots, then the priest shall look; and, behold, if the bright spots in the skin of their flesh be of a dull white, it is a minor skin disease, it has broken out in the skin. He is clean.”
This kind of skin complaint can be dealt with quickly. If the person has white bright spots and they are a dull white it is simply a minor skin disease and can be ignored. The person is clean. It may be impetigo, or acne, or eczema. It would be a different matter if they were the inflamed white vesicles of clinical leprosy.
It matters not how small and insignificant something is, Jesus Christ is still interested in it. It is by constantly coming to Him that we make sure that any ‘spots’ we have are not signs of something which could destroy us. Fortunately much of the time our ‘spots’ turn out not to be too important, and can be removed by our own decisions. But we would be foolish to ignore them.
Dealing With Baldness (Leviticus 13:40-44 ).
“And if a man's hair has fallen off his head, he is bald; yet he is clean. And if his hair has fallen off from the front part of his head, he is forehead bald; yet he is clean.”
The falling out of the hair, which some might have seen as disastrous, is nothing to be concerned about as far as cleanness is concerned. The bald man is as ‘clean’ as the man with plenty of hair.
“But if there is on the bald head, or the bald forehead, a reddish-white plague, it is a suspicious skin disease breaking out on his bald head, or his bald forehead. Then the priest shall look on him; and, behold, if the rising of the plague be reddish-white on his bald head, or on his bald forehead, as the appearance of a suspicious skin disease in the skin of the flesh, he is a diseased man, he is unclean. The priest shall surely pronounce him unclean. His plague is in his head.”
On the other hand if there is a reddish-white plague on his head or forehead, it is a suspicious skin disease. Then the priest must examine him and if the reddish-white plague on his head has the same appearance as the suspicious skin disease on the skin of the flesh elsewhere (compare Leviticus 13:19), he is a diseased man. He is unclean. The plague is in his head and he will be pronounced unclean.
Baldness is a reminder of things that we might have in our lives and can do nothing about. We wish they were not there but we have to endure them. But we can be sure that such things, if we can do nothing about it, do not prevent our fellowship with God. But let those things once become signs of a plague and they must be dealt with instantly. Then must we do what the Israelite could not do, turn to the Great Physician. Then we can be sure that He will sustain and heal us, putting right any wrong within and making us whole.
The Sad Consequences For The Permanently Unclean (Leviticus 13:45-46 ).
“And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and the hair of his head shall go loose, and he shall cover his upper lip, and he shall cry, Unclean, unclean. All the days during which the plague is in him he shall be unclean. He is unclean. He shall dwell alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.”
And what is to happen to those who turn out to have a serious and genuine suspicious skin disease? They must go into mourning, they must tear their clothes, they must let their hair hang loose, they must cover their upper lips, and they must cry, ‘unclean, unclean’ (compare Leviticus 10:6; Leviticus 21:10; Ezekiel 24:17; Ezekiel 24:22; Genesis 37:34; Numbers 14:6; 2 Samuel 1:11; 2Ki 11:14 ; 2 Kings 19:1; 2 Kings 22:11; 2 Kings 22:19; Ezra 9:5; Micah 3:7). As long as the plague is on them they shall be unclean. They must dwell outside the camp. They must dwell alone (or presumably with others in the same condition).
Theirs was a terrible fate, a terrible predicament. They could no longer enjoy the normal society of men, they could not enter the camp, and of course they had no opportunity to approach the tabernacle. Theirs was a living death.
And the fact that they were to go into permanent mourning brings out how their diseases were seen. They had to mourn because in a sense they were bearing their own sins and the sins of Israel. They had been smitten as a warning to others.
But one day One was to come Who would also be smitten. He too would be like one plagued. But He would be being plagued because He was bearing the sin of many. His face would be marred by suffering more than is usual for the sons of men. As One from Whom men hide their faces He would be despised and we would not esteem Him. He would have no beautiful form nor comeliness, and when men saw Him He would have no splendour that they should desire Him. He would be a man of sorrows, humiliated by grief. But He would be wounded for our transgressions, He would be bruised for our iniquities, the chastising of our peace would be on Him, and with His stripes would we be healed (Isaiah 51:13 to Isaiah 53:12).
And we too were once spiritually in the same condition as those poor diseased men and women. We too were like that. And one day, if we are Christ’s, God awoke us and enabled us to see that we were unclean, unworthy, hopeless, bowed down with the disease of sin. All we could do was mourn and cry ‘unclean’ unclean’ as Isaiah did of old (Isaiah 6:5). Are we sufficiently aware of how grateful we should be that the Master came our way, and suffered so, and seeing us in our uncleanness stretched out His hand and touched us and said, ‘Be made whole’? And thus were we able to arise and enter not only the camp, not only the tabernacle, but Heaven itself with Him. And our filthy garments were taken off us, and replaced with His garments of righteousness of glistening white. And we no longer had to cry, ‘unclean, unclean’, but ‘holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts Who has delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver, and will yet deliver us’. Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift.
Deliverance From A Fungoid Plague In What We Wear (Leviticus 13:47-59 ).
The laws of uncleanness now move on to uncleanness in clothing. It is quite possible from what follows that in the conditions under which they lived in the wilderness, and possibly even continuing into Canaan, there were types of fungus that could infest clothing which were especially dangerous to men and women. It may have been a type of fungus unknown to us, although we are, of course, familiar with types of mould which are toxic when eaten. This fungus was distinguished by being ‘greenish or reddish’, somewhat similar to the plague that can affect a building (Leviticus 14:37). The very fact of the definition suggests that other types of mould were not looked on in quite the same way.
However from the point of view of the ritual the significant thing was that such fungus, whether mould or mildew or whatever it was, was seen as defiling, possibly even death-dealing. It marred the ‘perfection’ required in the camp, and must be dealt with ritually. It jarred on God’s holiness and even on the holiness of Israel. So provision was made for the way that it could be discerned and if necessarily dealt with. For most of the people could not afford just to throw away clothes because they had become stained. Thus it was ensured that they only had to get rid of them if absolutely necessary.
It may seem a little trivial to introduce the idea of fungus in clothing in between the description of skin diseases in men and women that could result in their being cast out of the camp, and the restoration of such people if their skin disease was healed, but the intention was probably to indicate that there was indeed the hope of healing for some. The clothing was not totally condemned. Some could be restored. It was a prelude to hope. And it does bring out how important clothing was seen to be.
Thus there is probably a greater significance to the introduction of clothing here. In Israel’s view religiously speaking clothes were vital for fallen mankind. They were part of the reason why he could be accepted before God. They covered man’s nakedness. For there may be in mind here the coats of skins in Genesis 3:21.
We have already observed the slow movement through from Genesis 1:0 to Genesis 3:0 in Leviticus 11:0 and Leviticus 12:0, and in Genesis 3:21 clothing was an epoch making event for mankind. Up to this point man had been naked, but man now wore clothes for the first time and was clothed before God. His nakedness was covered. He was again acceptable in God’s eyes. And he must never again go naked. Indeed a further curse would come when Noah’s nakedness was revealed (Genesis 9:25).
This vital covering of nakedness is also stressed with regard to the altar of burnt offering and the sanctuary. There were to be no steps to the altar lest the nakedness of the offerer be revealed (Exodus 20:26). Indeed the priests must wear breeches for this very reason (Exodus 28:42). If that be so then the warning now comes that even such clothing as Adam and Eve received could become ‘unclean’. It was not a once for all provision. Uncleanness could get in anywhere. And if they do become unclean they must once more be made clean. Our clothing before God must be ‘clean’.
“The garment also that a fungous plague (actually the same word as for suspicious skin disease) is in, whether it be a woollen garment, or a linen garment; whether it be in warp, or woof; of linen, or of woollen; whether in a skin, or in anything made of skin; if the plague be greenish or reddish in the garment, or in the skin, or in the warp, or in the woof, or in anything of skin; it is a fungous plague, and shall be shown to the priest. And the priest shall look on the plague, and shut up that which has the plague seven days, and he shall look on the plague on the seventh day. If the plague be spread in the garment, either in the warp, or in the woof, or in the skin, whatever service the skin is used for; the plague is a fretting fungus; it is unclean. And he shall burn the garment, whether the warp or the woof, in woollen or in linen, or anything of skin, wherein the plague is: for it is a fretting fungus. It shall be burnt in the fire.”
The description of possible garments is comprehensive even though some of the technical terms in Hebrew are unknown to us. It applies to woollen garments, linen garments or clothing made of skins. We do not know what the Hebrew words behind ‘warp and woof’ mean, but they probably technically signify every part of the garment inside and out. No matter where the fungous plague is it must be dealt with, because it is a ‘fretting fungus’ and is ‘unclean’.
The garment must first be shown to the priest who must shut it up for seven days. Then it must be looked at again, and if the fungus is spreading through the garment it is clearly a ‘fretting fungus’ and must immediately be burned in fire.
“And if the priest shall look, and, behold, the plague is not spread in the garment, either in the warp, or in the woof, or in anything of skin, then the priest shall command that they wash the thing in which the plague is, and he shall shut it up seven days more, and the priest shall look, after that the plague is washed, and, behold, if the plague has not changed its colour, and the plague is not spread, it is unclean. You shall burn it in the fire. It is a fungus whether the bareness be within or without.”
If the fungus has not spread the garment must be washed and then shut up for another seven days. If the plague still retains its colour it must be burned with fire no matter whether it is on the inside or the out, it must be burned. It is a suspicious disease.
“And if the priest look, and, behold, the plague be dim after its washing, then he shall rend it out of the garment, or out of the skin, or out of the warp, or out of the woof, and if it appear still in the garment, either in the warp, or in the woof, or in anything of skin, it is breaking out. You shall burn that in which the plague is with fire.”
However, if the mark of the plague has faded through washing then the particular patch can be torn out of the garment and replaced by a good patch. But if signs of the plague still continue it is ‘breaking out’, the garment must be burned.
“And the garment, either the warp, or the woof, or whatever thing of skin it be, which you shall wash, if the plague be departed from them, then it shall be washed the second time, and shall be clean.”
But if there are no further effects the garment should be washed a second time and will be clean.
“This is the law of the plague of leprosy in a garment of woollen or linen, either in the warp, or the woof, or anything of skin, to pronounce it clean, or to pronounce it unclean.”
This may well have been a colophon to the original tablet or other record, enabling the tablet to be quickly identified, or it may simply be a summarising statement.
The whole lesson for us from the above is quite clear. Our moral lives are regularly looked at in terms of garments. Isaiah could say, ‘all our righteousnesses are as a polluted garment’, menstrually unclean, something similar to fungoid garments (Isaiah 64:6). Joshua the High Priest after the Exile had his ‘filthy garments’ (befouled with man’s uncleanness) removed from him (Zechariah 3:3-4), in readiness for God’s coming action. And in contrast the bride of the Lamb is to be clothed in linen clean and white, which represents the righteousnesses of God’s people, God’s ‘holy ones’ (Revelation 19:8). Compare also Ezekiel 16:10 and Zechariah 3:5. Thus we have in this passage a warning that we must deal quickly and severely with any sin, especially such as has a tendency to spread. If our moral garments become plagued they must be destroyed, and we must put on new garments of righteousness. Sin must not be dallied with, it must be cast off and burnt.
It is especially a reminder that by nature we are all clothed in polluted garments, which must be cast off, destroyed, and replaced by the righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21), as a man puts on a wedding garment when invited to a wedding (Matthew 22:11-12). Our only hope is to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ (see Ephesians 5:26-27).
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Leviticus 13". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34