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the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 13

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-46


UNCLEANNESS DERIVED FROM LEPROSY OR CONTACT WITH LEPERS AND LEPROUS THINGS (Leviticus 13:1-59, Leviticus 14:1-57). A third cause of uncleanness is found in a third class of offensive or repulsive objects. There is no disease which produces so foul an appearance in the human form as leprosy. There was, therefore, no disease so suitable for creating ceremonial, because representing spiritual, uncleanness.

The name leprosy has been made to cover a number of diseases similar but not identical in character. There are many spurious forms of leprosy, and many diseases akin to leprosy which do not now come under discussion. The disease here dealt with is elephantiasis, especially in its anesthetic form, which is otherwise called white leprosy. The two varieties of elephantiasis—the tuberculated and the anesthetic—are, however, so closely connected together that they cannot be separated, the one. often running into the other. The first symptom of the malady is a painless spot, which covers an indolent ulcer. This ulcer may continue unprogressive for months or for years, during which the person affected is able to do his ordinary business; but at the end of these periods, whether longer or shorter, it produces a more repulsive and foul disfigurement of the human face and frame than any known disease, the features of the face changing their character, and part of the body occasionally mortifying and dropping off. Death at last comes suddenly, when a vital part of the body has been affected.
The home of leprosy has in all ages been Syria and Egypt and the countries adjacent to them, but Europe has not escaped the scourge. In the Middle Ages, no European country was free from it; London had at one time six leper houses; cases were found not unfrequently in Scotland till the middle of the last century; and there was a death certified by medical science to have resulted from leprosy in the city of Norwich in the year 1880.£ The object of the regulations relating to leprosy is no more sanitary than of those relating to unclean meats. Like the latter, they may have served a sanitary purpose, for leprosy is, according to the prevailing medical opinion, slightly, though only slightly, contagious. Because leprosy was hideous and foul, it therefore made the man affected by it unclean, and before he could be restored to communion with God and his people, he must be certified by God's priest to be delivered from the disease. As in the previous cases, physical ugliness and defilement represent spiritual depravity and viciousness. "The Levitical law concerning leprosy reveals to us the true nature of sin. It shows its hideousness and its foulness, and fills us with shame, hatred, and loathing for it. And it reveals to us the inestimable benefit which we have received from the incarnation of the Son of God, 'the Sun of Righteousness, with healing in his wings' (Malachi 4:2); and fills us with joy, thankfulness, and love to him for his infinite goodness to us" (Wordsworth). Leprosy, the most loathsome of all common diseases, is the type and symbol of sin, and the ceremonial uncleanness attaching to it is a parable of the moral foulness of sin.

Leviticus 13:2

The word translated plague of leprosy literally means stroke. It seems to be used in the sense of spot. Then shall he be brought unto Aaron the priest. That the regulations respecting leprosy were not sanitary arrangements, as has been sometimes represented, is indicated by the authority over the leper being vested in the priest rather than in the physician, and the question of whether a man was a leper or no being decided by the former rather than the latter. It is to be noted also that the priest is not made unclean by his contact with the leper, because he is in the performance of his duty. The supposed leper may be brought either to Aaron or unto one of his sons the priests; that is, to the high priest or to the ordinary priest, and those descendants of Aaron who were disqualified by physical infirmities from officiating at the altar were permitted to act as examiners in leprosy.

Leviticus 13:3

When the hair in the plague is turned white. This is the first symptom, and the most noticeable as the commencement of the disease. The hair around the spot loses its colour and becomes thin and weak, the separate hairs being hardly stronger or individually thicker than down. The second symptom is when the plague in sight be deeper than the skin of his flesh; that is, below the upper skin, or cuticle, and in the real cutis. These two symptoms distinguish real leprosy from other affections which at first bear a similar appearance.

Leviticus 13:4-8

In case the symptoms are not decisive, then the priest shall shut up him that hath the plague seven days. The words thus translated would perhaps be better rendered, then the priest shall bind up the part affected for seven days. The priest is to delay his judgment for a week, and, if necessary, for a second week, during which period the patient is, according to the rendering, either to be confined to his house or, more probably, to have the spot bandaged. Whether the disease be or be not leprosy will probably have declared itself by the end of that time; and if the plague be somewhat dark on the fourteenth day, that is, if it has begun to lose its colour and to fade away, and has not spread in the skin, the priest is to decide that it is not real leprosy, and pronounce the man clean. He is still, however, to be kept under supervision, and if the spot is found to spread, he is to be pronounced unclean, as it is proved to be a leprosy.

Leviticus 13:9-11

The method of procedure in the case of a doubtful leprosy having been laid down in the previous verses, the rule for dealing with an unmistakable case is here given. When the characteristic white spot and white hair are present (if the rising be white in the skin, and it have turned the hair white), and if a third symptom be present—if there be quick raw flesh in the rising, that is, if there be an ulcer underneath the white scab, there is to be no delay, as in the previous case, but judgment is to be passed at once. The priest shall pronounce him unclean, and shall not shut him up: for he is manifestly unclean.

Leviticus 13:12-17

If a leprosy break out abroad … and cover all the skin. There was a form of disease similar to true leprosy, and bearing the name of leprosy, and by some thought to be the final phase of true leprosy, which was yet not to cause legal uncleanness. It was distinguishable from the leprosy which caused uncleanness by a diffusion of the white flakes over the whole body, and by the absence of any patches bearing the appearance of raw flesh (Leviticus 13:12, Leviticus 13:13). Real leprosy might pass into this harmless kind or phase, and it was known to have done so as soon as the raw patches of flesh had disappeared (Leviticus 13:16, Leviticus 13:17). When this had taken place, the priest pronounced him clean.

Leviticus 13:18-23

The method of discriminating between a leprous spot and the reappearing scar of an old ulcer. A reappearing ulcer is to be regarded as leprous it' it have the characteristic marks of leprosy; that is, if it be below the cuticle, and the hairs round it arc turned white. If it has not these marks, it has to be watched for seven days, and if in that time it does not spread, it is to be declared a burning boil, or rather an ulcerous scar, in which case the priest shall pronounce him clean.

Leviticus 13:24-28

The method of discriminating between a leprous spot and the scar of a burn. If there be any flesh, in the skin whereof there is a hot burning. This rendering indicates that the authors of the Authorized Version thought a disease of the nature of a carbuncle to be meant; but it is better to take the words literally as they are translated in the margin, If there be any flesh, in the skin whereof there is a burning of fire; that is, a scar from a burn, The leprous spot and the scar are to be distinguished as in the previous case. An old nicer or burn is a more likely place for a leprous spot to appear than any part of the body which is sound, just as in the moral sphere sin fixes on some old wound of the soul to burst out in.

Leviticus 13:29-37

The method of discriminating between a leprous spot on the head or beard and an ulcer in the same place. The symptoms of leprosy are the same as before, except that the hairs in this case are of a reddish-yellow colour instead of white. The treatment is also the same, with the addition of shaving the head or beard except at the place where the suspicious spot has appeared. In Leviticus 13:31 the priest is ordered to shut up (or bandage) the patient, if

(1) the spot be only in the upper cuticle, and

(2) there is no black hair in it.

We should have expected rather from the second condition if there be black hair in it, or if there be no yellow hair in it; and Keil accordingly proposes to omit the negative or to change the word "black" for "yellow," the two words in the original being easily interchangeable. The present reading is. however. defensible. The fact of the spot being not below the cuticle was a very favorable symptom; there being no black hair was a very unfavourable symptom. Under these circumstances, the priest delays his judgment in the ordinary way.

Leviticus 13:38, Leviticus 13:39

The method of discriminating between leprous spots and freckled spots. In case the spots in the skin of theft flesh be darkish white; that is, of a dull or pale white, then it is only a freckled spot that groweth in the skin. This is "the harmless bohak (ἀλφός, LXX.), which did not defile, and which even the Arabs, who still call it bahak, consider harmless. It is an eruption upon the skin, appearing in somewhat elevated spots or rings of unequal sizes and a pale white colour, which do not change the hair; it causes no inconvenience, and lasts from two months to two years" (Keil). The man or woman who has this is clean.

Leviticus 13:40-44

Leprosy appearing on the bald head. Though leprosy makes the hair drop off around the leprous spot, baldness is in itself no sign of leprosy, whether at the back or front of the head (Leviticus 13:40, Leviticus 13:41); but as the bald head is a not unusual place for the leprous spot to appear, any eruption upon it is therefore to be watched and tested as before.

Leviticus 13:45, Leviticus 13:46

The cases for examination having been discussed, the law for the treatment of the man in whom leprosy has been proved to exist is pronounced. The leper in whom the plague is to be ex-eluded from the camp, lest others should contract defilement from him. tie is for the same reason to cry, Unclean, unclean, lest any wayfarer should unwittingly come in contact with him; and his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, these being the signs of mourning for the dead. The bared or disheveled head (see Le Leviticus 10:6) and the covered lip are incidentally mentioned as signs of mourning in Ezekiel 24:17, and the covered upper lip as a mark of shame in Micah 3:7. By the expression, He shall dwell alone, is meant he shall dwell apart from those who were clean. Of course, lepers would naturally associate with each other, and so we find that they actually did (Luke 17:12). As their presence was supposed to defile any place that they entered, they were punished in later times with forty stripes if they did not observe the restraints laid down for them. "They were, however, admitted to the synagogue, where a place was railed off for them, ten handbreadths high and four cubits wide, on condition of their entering the house of worship before the rest of the congregation and leaving it after them" (Edersheim, 'Temple Service'). The exclusion of the leper was not for the purpose of avoiding contagion, nor to serve as a penalty for having contracted so loathsome a disease, but primarily to prevent the spread of ceremonial uncleanness communicated by his touch, and typically and mystically to teach that the fate brought upon a man by unremoved sin is separation from the people of God here and hereafter.


Leviticus 13:1-59

The diagnosis of sin as illustrated in the leprosy.

cf. 2 Kings 5:1-27 : Psalms 88:1-18; Matthew 8:1-4; Luke 5:12-15. The preceding chapter brings forward sin as an inheritance through ordinary generation. No thorough sense or treatment of sin can be reached unless it is recognized as a nature. But God went further in his education of his people. He took one disease with unmistakable characteristics; he legislated about it, doomed the possessor of it to a certain treatment, and so made plain to all his attitude towards sin.

The case of Naaman (2 Kings 5:1-27) demonstrates that leprosy was not treated in Syria as it was among the Jews. Though a leper, he could enjoy the society of his family, wait upon his king, and command the spray. The disease entailed no penalties at Damascus such as existed in Samaria. No sanitary solution, therefore, of this Mosaic law will satisfy the conditions; we must look to moral and spiritual considerations for the solution. £ Hence we are constrained to start with the canon of interpretation that leprosy was a disease selected for treatment among the Jews to illustrate the treatment of sin.

I. AS SOON AS THE DISEASE IS SUSPECTED, THE PERSON IS TO GO, OR BE BROUGHT, NOT TO A PHYSICIAN, BUT TO ONE OF THE PRIESTS. This took it out of the category of diseases curable by ordinary means. Hence the term for "leprosy" (צָרָעַת, from צָרַע, to strike down) signifies "the stroke of God." It was deemed a Divine infliction, which, if not divinely cured, would terminate fatally, and, though not disseminated by contact, was transmissible from parent to child. In handing it over in such circumstances for religious treatment, there was afforded one of the most striking illustrations of the nature of sin. Sin is a disease which none but the Divine Physician can cure. All effort at self-cure, all effort after merely human cure, is unavailing. Of course, sinners are induced to believe in the curability of the incurable, else there would be no sale for many a "patent medicine," and no opening for many a spiritual imposture. But God has made it sufficiently plain, by statement and illustration, that sin is a disease with which only he himself can deal. Hence he handed its symbol, the leprosy, to a priest, and not to a physician.

II. THE PRIEST, IN INVESTIGATING THE DISEASE, IS TO ASCERTAIN. WHETHER IT IS SUPERFICIAL OR VITAL. It may be only a "scab" or a "burning boil," a mere superficial eruption, in which case the priest is to comfort the patient with the assurance that he is clean. But if the disease is seen to go down into the vitals of the patient, to be deep and hidden, then the priest is to pronounce him unclean.

For sin is no superficial matter, but a vital and fatal evil. It eats below the appearances into the very vitals of the being, and, unless divinely checked, must run its fatal course,

III. THE PENALTY OF PRONOUNCED LEPROSY, IS A LIVING DEATH, AND A CONSEQUENT EXCLUSION FROM THE CAMP OF GOD. "The leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean. All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be" (verses 45, 46). It is instructive to analyze this sentence. And—

1. The leper was to regard himself as virtually a dead man. This is implied by the rent clothes and the bare head, the signs of Oriental mourning, He was to be his own chief mourner. The same idea was carried out in the Middle Ages, when the mass for the dead was said over the leper. Longfellow refers to this in his 'Golden Legend,' when he says of Prince Henry—

"Why, in Saint Rochus
They made him stand, and wait his doom:
And, as if he were condemned to the tomb,
Began to mutter their hocus-pocus.
First, the mass for the dead they chanted,
Then three times laid upon his head
A shovelful of churchyard clay,
Saying to him, as he stood undaunted.
'This is a sign that thou art dead;
So in thy heart be penitent!'
And forth from the chapel door he went
Into disgrace and banishment,
Clothed in a cloak of hodden gray,
And bearing a wallet, and a bell,
Whose sound should be a perpetual knell
To keep all travellers away."

In the leper we have, therefore, the finest possible illustration of what spiritual death is. It is not a state of unconsciousness, but a state of consciousness. A sense of hopeless doom goes to make up this living death. Here have we vividly presented what "dead in trespasses and sins" must mean.

2. The leper was to cry out as he met a passenger, "Unclean, unclean!" That is, he was to encourage the consciousness of personal uncleanness. In no way could a penitent spirit be more powerfully, illustrated. A perpetual humiliation was thus kept up, a sense of vileness and uncleanness, which is wholesome for the soul. Doubtless the sense of uncleanness might be impenitent; the poor leper might regard himself as a victim of providence instead of one deserving the stroke. But his cry is a very vivid representation of what humiliation for sin should be.

3. The leper must isolate himself from the society of the pure, and dwell without the camp. Isolation is what the leper is required to enter, and what we may be sure he does enter willingly. To a doomed man like him, contact with the clean and pure would be painful. Isolation would be easier to bear than society. So is it with sin. It is an isolating, repellent power. The sinner would not choose the society of the holy. Heaven would be a more painful place for a sinful soul than Gehenna itself. Hence we find in Roy. 21. that while the new Jerusalem is to have nothing that defileth within it, no precaution to ensure this is needed; the gates remain open, for sinners would not, even if they could, court the society of the holy.

The isolating power of sin may be illustrated from the case of Byron. Two quotations are worth giving in this connection.

"I loved—but those I loved are gone;

Had friends—my early friends are fled.

How cheerless feels the heart alone,

When all its former hopes are dead!

Though gay companions e'er the bowl

Dispel awhile the sense of ill;

Though pleasure stirs the maddening soul,

The heart—the heart—is lonely still."

And again in the stanzas written at Missolonghi when he was thirty-six—

"My days are in the yellow leaf;

The flowers and fruits of love are gone:

The worm, the canker, and the grief

Are mine alone!

"The fire that on my bosom preys

Is lone as some volcanic isle;

No torch is kindled at its blaze—

A funeral pile."

Was it not to taste the full consequences of human sin that our Lord had to enter the desolation which constrained the cry on the cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

IV. ON THE OTHER HAND, THE PRIEST IS DIRECTED HOW HE MAY ASCERTAIN WHEN THE LEPROSY HAS BEEN CURED. For this direction contemplates cases of cure, where "the stroke of God" in the leprosy has been followed up by the mercy of God in removing it, Now, one general principle runs through the cases of cure. If the priest has evidence that the disease has all come to the surface, then he is to pronounce the leper clean. The spiritual counterpart of this is not far to seek. If sin be hidden, if the sinner, like the Psalmist, keep silence about it, then his bones wax old through his roaring all the day long, and his moisture is turned into the drought of summer (Psalms 32:3, Psalms 32:4). But if the sinner confesses his sin, acknowledges all he knows, and that there is much besides known only to the Lord—in a word, if the sinner makes "a clean breast" of everything, then is the cure of God in process of accomplishment. The lesson here is consequently the great desirability of a full and heartfelt confession of sin. There is hope of a man when he hides nothing from the Lord.

V. MAN SHOULD BE .AS CAREFUL ABOUT HIS ENVIRONMENT AS ABOUT HIMSELF. It is evident from the possibility of leprosy infecting garments, and even houses, that the disease was contemplated as having a much wider range than the person of the leper. The directions given to the priest, moreover, contemplate the purification of man's surroundings. Every effort is to be made to stamp out the plague. The pure or purified are to be surrounded by the pure,

Now, this conveys the spiritual lesson surely of man taking the utmost pains to have a pure atmosphere, so to speak, in which to cultivate purity of life. Wherever sin is allowed free play, it will extend its ravages to man's environment. The world itself is a different world through man's sin. The duty of God's people in this case is plain. "The very appearance of evil" must be avoided (1 Thessalonians 5:22). We must carefully keep ourselves unspotted from the world (James 1:27). Whenever we find sin tempting us, we must, if possible, have it removed and consumed. Does it meet us in literature? let us avoid it, and, if possible, destroy it. And even the ravages of sin in the world itself must be contemplated in the hope of having them one day completely removed. Let sin be slain in the light of day is the great practical lesson of this chapter.—R.M.E.


Leviticus 13:1-59


That leprosy is a type of sin is evident from David's allusion in confessing his own horrible offenses (see Psalms 51:7)? This also appears from the words of Jesus to the only leper, out of the ten cleansed by him, who returned to give glory to God: "Thy faith hath saved thee" (see Luke 17:11-19). The others had faith which availed them to remove the leprosy of the body; but this man's faith availed to remove the leprosy of the soul. Hence this plague often came as a judgment from Heaven upon sin (see Numbers 12:10; 2 Kings 5:27; 2 Chronicles 26:19), from which circumstance, perhaps, it had its name (צרעת), tsaraath, from (צרע), tsaro, to smite. As there is no disease whose description engages so much space in Scripture, leprosy must be regarded as a very special type of sin.


1. So it is described.

(1) According to Scripture it appeared in a "rising," or "scab," or "bright spot" (Leviticus 13:2). From one or more of these centers it "spread" (Leviticus 13:8, Leviticus 13:12, Leviticus 13:22, Leviticus 13:36), exhibiting "quick raw flesh" (Leviticus 13:10, Leviticus 13:15), and this as it dried turned to a white scurf (Leviticus 13:13). Job is, by some, supposed to have been afflicted with leprosy (see Job 7:5).

(2) Travellers give frightful accounts of it. Maundrell describes it as he witnessed it in Palestine, and states it to be "the utmost corruption of the human body at this side the grave."

2. Is not this a true picture of sin?

(1) View it in the haunts of the "criminal classes." What spectacles are witnessed in police courts! what distortion of features, what mutilations, the humanity almost battered out of them through the violences of dissipation!

(2) No less loathsome to the eye of God are the hearts of many who outwardly seem respectable (Jeremiah 17:9). Sin is called "corruption," and seducers to sin "corrupters" (Ephesians 4:22; 2 Peter 2:19). Learn to loathe sin.


1. Surface evils may be mistaken for sin.

(1) When symptoms go no deeper than the skin, they are no proof of leprosy (verses 4, 34). Errors of judgment sometimes arc mistaken for sins. Sincere Christians should be careful not to condemn themselves when God does not condemn them.

(2) Surface evils may be very painful, There were "burning boils," which did not compromise the cleanness of the sufferer (verses 23, 28). So may we smart under reproaches and scandals raised by the malignity of enemies, and perhaps sometimes through our own unwisdom, which God will not impute to us for sin.

2. When the evil is in the flesh there is uncleanness.

(1) This was a capital test of leprosy (verses 3, 20, 30). This disease may be handed down from father to son (see 2 Kings 5:27). So sin is "that which cometh out of the heart" (Matthew 15:18-20; 1 Corinthians 8:7; Titus 1:15; Hebrews 12:15, Hebrews 12:16), Like its type, sin also is hereditary (Romans 5:12).

(2) Mental rebellion against God is of the worse kind. Hence the emphasis with which the uncleanness of the leper is pronounced whose leprosy is in his head (see verses 43, 44). Satan is intellect without God. Keep a pure faith and it will keep you.


1. Such was the figure.

(1) Leprosy works secretly at first, and for years may be concealed. Its early appearance may be limited to a pimple; but so rapidly does it spread that "seven days" may be sufficient for it to become pronounced (verses 22, 27, 36),

(2) It may pass from the leper to his neighbor. Robinson says, "That it was contagious, all histories, sacred and profane, agree" ('Theological Dictionary'). It was therefore necessary to provide that lepers should dwell apart (verse 46; Numbers 12:15; 2Ch 27:1-9 :21).

(3) Property as well as persons caught the plague. Garments had to be destroyed for it (verse 52). Houses also (Job 14:1-22 :45).

2. The reality answers to the figure,

(1) Sin in the individual gathers strength by habit, and infects the faculties until the heart is sick, the head faint, and the whole man is a mass of moral putrescence (Isaiah 1:6).

(2) By precept and example he demoralizes his neighbours, and brings down the judgments of Heaven upon them (Joshua 7:1, Joshua 7:11, Joshua 7:12; Ecclesiastes 9:18).

(3) The plague of sin affects the material prosperity of individuals and of nations. No wonder the leper should be accounted ceremonially unclean, and the sinner avoided by the holy universe.—J.A.M.

Leviticus 13:1-59

The priest's adjudication.

We have considered the plague of leprosy as an emblem of sin; the adjudication upon it will suggest thoughts concerning the treatment of sin. In this business the principal actor was the priest, who must be viewed as the type of Christ. The judgment in this case will be disciplinary rather than final; for when Messiah will come to judge the world at the last day, he will appear not as a priest but as a king. We are now concerned with the functions of the priest.


1. In this he proceeded according to the Law.

(1) He had his rules for determining the presence of the plague.

(2) So by the Word of God is our moral cleanness or uncleanness to be determined (Romans 2:13; Rom 3:20; 1 Corinthians 14:24, 1 Corinthians 14:25; James 1:22-25; James 2:9).

(3) Conviction is carried home by the Spirit of Christ.

2. When the case was dubious judgment was deferred.

(1) Meanwhile the suspected person was "shut up" (Leviticus 13:4, Leviticus 13:21, Leviticus 13:31) that opportunity might be given for the manifestation of the symptoms. So are sinners "shut up" by the Law to the faith of the gospel.

(2) At the end of "seven days" judgment was given; or, if the symptoms were not then sufficiently manifest, a second period of seven days was allowed, which was the final term. Could these periods refer to the dispensations of our probation? In this case the leper must be taken to personate a class of sinner according to the type of his disease, whether proceeding from the "rising," or the "boil," or the "scab." In any case, a sufficient probation is given us in this world for the manifestation of our real character, which probation we should be careful to improve.

3. A leprous garment was treated as representing its owner.

(1) It had to be inspected by the priest for his judgment and sentence, as though it had been a person. In case the plague in it were not pronounced, it had to be "shut up" and examined again after the same intervals of" seven days" (Leviticus 13:50, Leviticus 13:54). The expense and trouble of this, particularly if it had to be brought from a distance, would be as much as the garment was worth, so that the Law is unaccountable unless it was intended to serve a typical purpose.

(2) Agabus the prophet made Paul's girdle emblematically to represent that apostle (Acts 21:11). The "owner" of a leprous house, obviously for the same reason, had to "come and tell the priest" (Leviticus 14:35).

(3) The washing of the garment in this case suggests the washing of regeneration.


1. In some cases the verdict was an acquittal.

(1) If the suspected leprosy proved to be but a surface evil, the subject was pronounced clean (Leviticus 13:6). Jesus does not mark as sins infirmities which spring not from an evil nature. The person acquitted, however, had to wash his clothes (Leviticus 13:34). There is no person so faultless as not to need the laver of regeneration.

(2) If a leper be "white all over," no proud flesh, no ichor, being visible, he is pronounced clean (Leviticus 13:13). The virulence of the disease is over; God's mercy has reached him; the sinner is forgiven. But the marks of an old dissipation often remain after forgiveness. Though now clean, there can be no question that he had been a leper.

(3) Another case is given. A leper, supposing his disease gone, presents himself to the priest for his cleansing; but the priest, discovering "raw flesh," sends him away unclean; in time, however, he becomes cured, returns to the priest, and on the second application is pronounced clean (Leviticus 13:17). This case is like that of the sinner whose repentance is not perfect, and at the altar he discovers that until he is reconciled to a brother whom he had wronged his gift cannot be accepted; the reconciliation made, he returns and finds the favour of God (Matthew 5:23, Matthew 5:24).

2. In other cases the judgment was "Unclean."

(1) When the plague is pronounced, as in cases of "old leprosy," deliberation was unnecessary; judgment came speedily (Leviticus 13:10, Leviticus 13:11). So with the openly wicked (Psalms 9:16; Proverbs 5:22; Proverbs 11:5).

(2) In all cases evidence must be clear. Time, therefore, was given for the plague to pronounce itself. So, before judgment could overtake the Amorites, their iniquity must be full (Genesis 15:16; see also Daniel 8:23; Matthew 23:32, Matthew 23:33; 1 Thessalonians 2:16).

(3) Jesus is unerring in his judgments. He is the faithful as well as merciful High Priest.

3. The sentence.

(1) The leper has to dwell without the camp (Leviticus 13:46). So must the open sinner be put out of the Church (see 1 Corinthians 5:11-13). Hypocrites and unbelievers, though in the Church in the visible part, are not recognized by God as members of the Church in the spiritual part.

(2) The leper has to behave as an excommunicate seeking for the mercy of God. His clothes are rent to express extreme grief and sorrow. His head is bare, turbanless, to express deep humiliation. He put a covering upon his upper lip; had his jaw tied up with a linen cloth as a corpse, to express his state as that of a living death (see 2 Kings 5:7; Ezekiel 24:17), and he was to cry "Unclean!" (Leviticus 13:45). When we confess that we are dead in trespasses and sins, and sorrow to repentance, there is hope for us in God.

(3) But as the garment that remains unclean after two washings, to save it from destruction must have the leprous piece rent from it; so if a "right hand" or "right eye" prevent us from realizing the benefits of redemption, they must be separated (Leviticus 13:56). But if all efforts to save the garment fail, then its doom is to be burnt (see Matthew 5:29, Matthew 5:30; Matthew 18:8, Matthew 18:9).—J.A.M.


Leviticus 13:45, Leviticus 13:46

A picture of sin.

The stringent rules for the treatment of the leper are not sufficiently explained by sanitary considerations. The Jews saw in the leper a symbol of the sinner visited with the displeasure of God. His was a stroke of smiting ("plague of leprosy") from the hand of Jehovah, which made him "utterly unclean" (Leviticus 13:44). The instructions of this chapter may convey to us important truth respecting the sinner's condition. To behold it thus forcibly depicted may administer a wholesome warning.

I. THE CORRUPTION EFFECTED BY SIN. Cannot but shudder at:

1. Its loathsomeness, destroying man's appearance, making him offensive to the sight. How abominable is wickedness to the pure eyes of God, and if our moral sense were keener, what constant shocks should we receive from the wicked conduct of men! What want of taste to indulge in sin! what disharmony of relationship it introduces!

2. Note its tendency to spread until it becomes total. The commission of one crime often leads to another which still more impairs the soul; the inordinate gratification of appetite in one direction is provocative of intemperance in another; to lose modesty is often to lose natural affection. At last the whole constitution betrays the effects of sin, body, mind, and spirit are alike unpleasant to contemplate.

3. Its destruction of vital power. It was termed by the Jews a "living death." Of its worst form, where the limbs mortify and drop off, no special mention is made in the Law; indeed, the supposition is that, after the expiration of a certain time, the disease will have so spread as to become harmless, and the man may be termed "clean" (Leviticus 13:17). The disease appears to have become more malignant in subsequent ages, and thus to typify even more accurately the waste of strength produced by evil habits. The mental and moral faculties are enervated by sin, the sinner is led captive by the devil at his will. To understand a principle we must push its application to extreme consequences, and if we would entertain fitting conceptions of sin we must regard it not when most refined, not when in its commencement, but in its gross final results. To dread fire, think of the conflagration that visits a town with disorder and ruin!

II. THE EXCLUSION IT ENTAILS FROM HOLY PRIVILEGES, The leper was separate from the people and the sanctuary.

1. Contact with the sinner defiles, except in appointed cases, where the servant of God in fulfillment of duty (as the priest in examination) seeks out the moral h per. If men mingle with sinners, having Christ's end in view, to do them good, the association is pardoned. Otherwise "one sinner destroyeth much good," "evil communications corrupt good manners." Men should naturally shun the company of the debased as they would the presence of those afflicted with an infectious disease.

2. The semblance of sin must be guarded against. All that appears like it (Leviticus 13:5, Leviticus 13:6) needs suspicious treatment. Better to err on the safe side, not pronouncing at first decidedly, but watching the operation of a plan, or society, or principle, and ere long its true character wilt be manifested by development.

3. Continuance in sin means separation from the Church and the fellowship of right-minded people. The leper must "dwell alone, without the camp." Our Lord and his apostles insisted on the maintenance of discipline in Christian bodies. The persistent sinner will find himself eventually cut off from intercourse with his former friends, for ungodliness is an effectual barrier, creating uncongeniality of sentiment and behaviour.

4. Dismission from the presence of God is the worst penalty of sin. The Psalmist might lament his enforced absence from the tabernacle where he had seen the power and glory of God; but how much more the man who was so near the hill of Zion, and yet so far off by reason of symbolical impurity! Sin kept God and man asunder, and to remove it came the Lord Jesus Christ. The awful sentence finally pronounced upon the unrighteous is "Depart from me!" What absence of joy and peace and love is contained in the words, "the outer darkness"!


1. Grief. The leper wore the garb of mourning. There needs the godly sorrow that worketh repentance. Reflect not simply upon the sad consequences of sin, estrangement from God, deprivation of his favour, but upon their source, and learn to hate sin as an abomination.

2. Humiliation. The uncovered head attested the leper's shame. "I abhor myself" is fitting language for polluted lips.

3. Acknowledgment of guilt. Listen to the cry, "Unclean!" The upper lip was shrouded in a covering that enjoined general silence, except on the approach of a stranger, who might be thereby defiled. "We are all as an unclean thing." When sin lies heavily upon the conscience, it is felt to be no time for ordinary conversation, much less for frivolous gossip, though under such a veil anxiety is often hid.

CONCLUSION. By the Law was the knowledge of sin, but by the gospel is proclaimed its remedy, forgiveness and. sanctification through Christ. The priest was not dependent upon his own judgment, but was guided by fixed rules in deciding upon leprous cases. Yet he did not heal; the sufferer was left to nature's care, and to indulge the vague hope of recovery. The gospel bids all sinners lay aside their fears and rejoice in a panacea that never fails. The interposition of God by prophets which resulted in miraculous cures of leprosy prepared the way for the marvelous works of the Redeemer, who evinced by his restoring the body to health his power also to heal the soul. Thus what was faintly foreshadowed under the old dispensation has been brightly revealed in the new. The enumeration of the feelings appropriate to the sinner is incomplete, therefore, without adding to them hope, in the sense not of wishful longing, but of certain anticipation of salvation.—S.R.A.


Leviticus 13:3

It is a plague of leprosy.

The chosen type of sin—its individual aspect. The conjecture that leprosy was contracted by the children of Israel in the hot and dusty brick-fields of Egypt is probable enough. The definition that it was "any severe disease spreading on the surface of the body in the way described in the chapter, and so shocking of aspect … that public feeling called for separation," is near enough for our purpose, There can be no question that it was the divinely chosen type of sin.

All disease is pictorial of sin. It is to our bodily frame the very thing that sin is to our soul. Sin is the derangement or disorder of the soul, as sickness is of the body. It is an inward disorder, showing itself in some outward manifestation of a displeasing or painful character. It is something wrong within—some faculty (organ) not doing what it was made to do, or doing what it was not meant to do, causing disturbance and distress, But leprosy was selected by the Divine Ruler of Israel as a disease which should be regarded by his people as specially typical and suggestive of sin. It was admirably fitted so to be, whether looked at in its individual or in its social aspect, We will take the former first,

I. THE OBSCURITY OF ITS ORIGIN. By what sad and strange process came it to pass that man's bodily frame—fashioned by the Divine Creator, made clean and pure, wholesome and fair—has become the seat of such a foul disorder? How can it be that the little child whose flesh is beautiful and spotless, the very picture of all that is clean and sweet, grows up into a man who is "full of leprosy," covered from head to foot with revolting sores? And whence came sin into the soul and life of man? How came it here to blot and mar God's fair creation? How comes it to pass that into the heart of the innocent and lovely child there enters the very vilest spirit, showing itself in the most shocking words and the most revolting deeds, in later life?

II. ITS STUBBORNNESS. When, after seven days, the Hebrew priest could see no signs of true leprosy, he did not pronounce the patient clean: he shut him up other seven days (Leviticus 13:5), and examined him again. Leprosy was a tenacious and stubborn disease, disappearing and reappearing, After a long interval it might, under exciting cause, come once again to the surface. How like the affliction of the soul—sin! How tenacious is its hold on the human heart! It disappears and we are grateful, congratulatory, triumphant. But the inducing circumstances, the favourable conditions arise and conspire, and behold there is its hateful face again. We "would do good," we resolve to do good, but, alas! "evil is present with us" once more (Romans 7:21).

III. ITS DEATHFULNESS. The outward appearance was due to inward derangement; the springs of health were poisoned; the internal processes necessary to health were stayed; and the consequence was that feature after feature, limb after limb, decayed and fell away. The man was in a constant process of dissolution. It was death above the ground—death in a living form! Sin is death. The soul that lives in sin is "dead while it lives." It is not that which it was created to be, does not that which it was created to do. Its spiritual faculties (the organs and members of the soul) are in a state of continual dissolution, becoming feebler and feebler, till they are wholly lost. It is a living death.

IV. ITS UNCURABLENESS BY MAN. The Jews did not bring the physician to the leper; they regarded leprosy as a visitation from God, and considered it incurable by human art. Sin is incurable by mere human methods. Rules for the regulation of human conduct; pledges or vows of abstinence from particular temptations; parental, magisterial, social vigilance; penalties inflicted by ourself or by others for disobedience;—these are well enough in their way. They are sometimes desirable, sometimes necessary; but they do not cure. Nothing human will cure the soul's disorder; only the Almighty Hand can minister to the "mind diseased."

When Jesus Christ would prove to John that he was indeed the "One that should come," and that there was no need to "look for another," he added to the recital of his benefactions, "the lepers are cleansed" (Matthew 11:5). It was a true mark of the Messiah. The coming Saviour was he who had power to cure the incurable, to touch the foulest of the foul with the finger of the Divine mercy and sovereign power, and to make even him whole and pure. To that Divine Physician the man fullest of the leprosy of sin may go and say, "Lord, if thou wilt thou canst make me clean" (Luke 5:12).—C.

Leviticus 13:5

The chosen type of sin-its social aspect.

We have seen (vide previous Homily) how true a picture is leprosy of sin in its individual aspect; we now regard the subject in its more social aspect. What this terrible disease was to a man as a member of the Hebrew commonwealth, that is sin to a man as a member of society today.

I. ITS LOATHSOMENESS. It is quite possible that the leprosy from which the Israelites suffered was a contagious disorder. It is also possible that the dread of contagion, though there was no actual danger (as in cholera), may have had its influence in the matter. But there is no convincing evidence that it was contagious. There are indications that it was not (action of the priests, etc.); and the exclusion of the leper from the camp is fully accounted for in another way. The loathsomeness of the disease is a sufficient explanation. Whoever has seen any one suffering acutely from a kindred malady will perfectly understand and appreciate this legislation on that ground alone. It is difficult, if not impossible, to recover altogether from the mental effect of so shocking and so repulsive a spectacle. The vision haunts the memory for years. In this aspect leprosy is a striking picture of sin; for that is a thing odious and abominable in the last degree—loathsome to the Holy One of Israel, hateful to all holy souls. In its viler forms it is a thing which we—even with our imperfect purity—cannot "look upon" (Hebrews 1:13); holy much more horrible and hateful must it be in his sight whose thoughts of holiness as well as of mercy are as much higher than ours as the heavens are higher than the earth (Isaiah 55:9)!

II. ITS DIFFUSIVENESS. Though not, probably, contagious, leprosy was diffusive and communicable from parent to child. It was one of the crucial tests in the case that it spread over the skin (Leviticus 13:7, Leviticus 13:8), that it "spread much abroad" (Leviticus 13:22, Leviticus 13:27). As this typical disease spread from one part of the body to another, from one limb and organ to another, until it sometimes covered the entire frame, so sin, of which it was the divinely chosen type, is a thing that spreads. It is an emphatically diffusive, a communicable thing. It spreads:

1. From faculty to faculty of the same human spirit; one sin leads on to another, as theft to violence, or drunkenness to falsehood, or impurity to deception.

2. From parent to child.

3. From man to man, through the whole "body politic." It spreads much abroad through any and every body, civil or ecclesiastical, into which it enters.

III. ITS SEPARATING EFFECT. "He shall dwell alone: without the camp shall his habitation be" (Leviticus 13:46). Leprosy separated between husband and wife, parent and children, friend and friend; it sundered one human life from that of the commonwealth, and was a source of sad and, so far as the preciousness of life was concerned, a fatal loneliness. Sin is the separating power.

1. It comes between man and God (Isaiah 59:2). It places him outside the gates of the spiritual kingdom; it deprives a man of all fellowship with the heavenly Father; it leads him out into a "far country" of alienation, of dread, of dissimilarity.

2. It comes between man and man. It is the endless and bitter source of estrangement, animosity, war; it makes lonely the life that should be full of sweet and elevating fellowship.

IV. ITS PITIFULNESS. Who could see the poor leper, with rent clothes, with bare head, with covered lip, passing through the camp, crying, "Unclean, unclean!" on his way to a dreary and, it might be, life-long solitude and not be affected with a tender pity? He might be "unclean," but he was miserable, he was lost; the light of his life had gone out. Sin is not more condemnable than it is pitiable. Blame the erring, reproach the faulty, remonstrate with the foolish and the mischievous (1 Timothy 5:20), but pity those whom sin is shutting out from all that is best below, and will exclude from all that is bright and blessed above. Remember the "great love (of pity) wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins" (Ephesians 2:4, Ephesians 2:5), and pity with a profound compassion and help with an uplifting hand those who are still down in the mire of sin, still far from the kingdom of God.—C.

Leviticus 13:3

Conviction of sin.

"And the priest shall look on him, and pronounce him unclean." In the Hebrew commonwealth:

1. There were those who were reasonably suspected of leprosy, i.e; of "uncleanness."

2. It was a matter of the gravest consequence to know whether these suspicions were well founded or not. For ascertained leprosy meant unfitness to approach God in worship, exclusion from the fellowship of his people, etc.

3. It was the function of the priest to decide positively in the matter. The priest was to "look on him, and pronounce him unclean," or, on the other hand, to rule that he was clean (Leviticus 13:6).

In every commonwealth today, in the whole human world—

I. THERE ARE THOSE REASONABLY SUSPECTED OF SIN. These are not the few exceptions; they are the multitude without exception (Psa 14:1-7 :23).


(1) unlikeness to God;

(2) separation from God;

(3) condemnation by God, both here and hereafter;

(4) exclusion from the home of the holy. Hence we must ask—

III. WHO ARE THEY ON WHOM THIS GREAT DECISION IS DEVOLVED. It rests with no human priest to decide on our state before God. Our own heart must condemn us if we are to have that conviction of sift which leads to contrition for sin and to "repentance and remission of sin."

1. God will be our Divine Helper. He helps us to a right conclusion by his informing Word and by his illuminating Spirit.

2. Our fellow-men will be human helpers; they will guide us to an understanding of the Word of the Lord, and, directed by their own experience, will lead us to judge truly concerning our spiritual condition. Their aid will be ministerial, not authoritative.

3. We ourselves must decide in the last resort. This is one of those grave matters in which "every man must bear his own burden." We must recognize, with the eyes of our own soul, the signs and tokens of guilt in our heart and life. It must be the deliberate utterance of our own judgment, as well as the sigh of our own spirit, and the cry of our own lips, "I have sinned against the Lord ;" "Unclean, unclean!" When we look at our inner selves as well as outer life; when we consider what we have left undone of all our obligations, as well as what we have done that has been forbidden; when we contrast our hearts and lives with the precepts of God's holy Law and the ideal of human perfection in the example of our sinless Saviour; we shall have no hesitation in concluding that we are "utterly unclean," that we deserve exclusion from the friendship of God and the fellowship of the holy, and that it is our heavenly wisdom to seek at once his blessed presence who will say to us, "Wilt thou be made whole?" and to gain at once the touch of his mighty hand who, in answer to our earnest prayer, will respond by saying, I will; be thou clean."—C.

Leviticus 13:40-44

Affections of the mind.

We learn lessons concerning—

I. THE BLEMISH OF MENTAL PECULIARITY. (Leviticus 13:40.) Evidently baldness was an unusual and an unsightly thing among the Israelites. Otherwise it would not have excited notice and could not have created derision (2 Kings 2:23; Isaiah 3:24; Ezekiel 7:18). It was regarded as an unbecoming peculiarity. Affecting the head, we may regard it as a type of mental peculiarity which does not amount to a serious sin, but is yet unusual and unbecoming. Many men who are substantially sound in heart and life, loving that which is highest and doing that which is just and right, are yet affected and afflicted by mental peculiarities—oddities, crotchets, fancies, awkwardness or crookedness of mental habit; things which are not formidably had, but which, because they are superficial, strike the eye, provoke general remark, and stand in the way of effective service.

1. It is right that those who observe them in others should remember that they are only blemishes, and nothing more; detracting in some degree from "the beauty of holiness," but not inconsistent with real and even admirable excellence. "He is bald, yet he is clean" (Leviticus 13:40).

2. It is right that those who possess them should reflect, and act on the reflection, that these things, though only blemishes, may importantly diminish the power of the possessor to influence, guide, and win other people. The candle (character) is of much more importance than the candlestick (mental habit), but if character be obscured by some darkening "bushel," and not put on the candlestick of pleasant and agreeable habits, it will not "give light to all that are in the house" (Matthew 5:15).

II. THE EVIL OF ERROR. There might come on the bald head a spot, a sore; this might be a "white reddish sore"—leprous (Leviticus 13:42, Leviticus 13:43). But it might not; it might be nothing but a boil or some cutaneous disorder, which was not leprosy. In that case the patient Would be treated as described in Leviticus 13:2-6. There would be something wrong, but it was not the unclean thing, leprosy. There is a mental disease which is something more serious than peculiarity and something less serious than guilty perversity. It is error; the arrival at wrong conclusions. There may be but small faultiness in coming to convictions which are not correct, but there may be positive disaster resulting therefrom. A man may innocently take the wrong road, but his innocency will not save him from walking into the bog or over the precipice to which it leads. Error is not the worst thing in the world, but it is a seriously bad and dangerous thing. When we are earnestly warned, by obviously thoughtful and godly men, that we are wrong in our judgments, it becomes us to listen patiently and consider well whether we are in the right track, or whether we have mistaken a false path for the "path of life."

III. THE SIN OF MENTAL PERVERSITY. (Leviticus 13:43, Leviticus 13:44.) There is great significance in the sentence "the priest shall pronounce him utterly unclean." The man who had leprosy in the head was accounted unclean in an especial degree: he was utterly unclean. Sin, of which this malady was so striking a type, never assumes so dangerous a phase as when it appears in the form of a perverted judgment or a darkened conscience. When, by sinning, a man has blunted his spiritual perceptions so that he "calls evil good, and good evil," he is in the last stage of moral decline; death is near at hand. If" our eye be evil" (if our judgment be perverted, our faculty of spiritual perception be diseased), our "whole body is full of darkness;" if "the light that is in,, us" (our own mental and spiritual faculty) be darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 5:23). Witness the Pharisees in their treatment of our Lord. We may well be actively on our guard against, and may well be earnest in prayer that God will deliver us from, that of which leprosy in the head is the painful picture,—a guilty, blinding, ruinous perversity of mind.—C.

Leviticus 13:46

The right and duty of excommunication.

"He shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be." The right of expulsion from the Jewish camp would be founded, in the mind of Moses, on the Divine commandment (text; Numbers 5:2, etc.). That was all-sufficient for the great legislator. We may, however, "justify the ways of God to men" to our mind by the considerations:

1. That if the disease were not positively contagious, the dread of contagion would be most harmful to the community.

2. That the exceeding repulsiveness of the leper was ample reason for his being kept from the sight of men, women, and children.

3. That the most important and salutary lesson concerning sin was thereby vividly enforced, viz. that the sinner is, through his iniquity, separated from all that is purest and best. Unquestionably, with this and other clear commandments from Jehovah, it was both the right and the duty of the Hebrew commonwealth to expel the leper from the camp. Excommunication from human society is a sad and severe measure; but it is, in many cases, lawful and even obligatory. The foul and the "unclean" must be separated sometimes, even now and here, from the holy and the pure. Excommunication may be—


1. The nation has a right to transport or imprison those of its members who have committed crime, and who have shown that their presence "in the camp" is noxious and dangerous to the rest.

2. The nation is bound to exclude from town and city those who endanger its morals. The opium-seller, as such, is righteously excluded; the man who would sell poisons without restriction is disallowed; and an unlimited number of dramshops, with their terrible enticements, is (or, surely; should be) prohibited. A community has the right to say, "We will not allow any man, for the sake of gain, seriously to imperil the morals, the health, and the lives of the people; if you want to practice these things, you must go 'without the camp.'"


1. We ought not to admit to our intimacy any "unclean" human spirit. We should fence our social circles so that no man sits down to our table or our hearth to infect and poison our own minds.

2. But it is, in an especial degree, both cur right and our duty, as parents, to guard the family circle from the intrusion of "the unclean." What untold evils, what unimaginable sorrows, have befallen family life, because parents have not, with holy vigilance, saved their sons and daughters from the companionship of the corrupt! Of every "unclean" soul let the human father say, with sternest inflexibility, "Without the camp shall his habitation be."

III. THE RIGHT AND DUTY OF THE CHURCH. There can be no doubt of this.

1. It is the divinely appointed way. It was instituted by our Lord himself (Matthew 18:17, Matthew 18:18). It was enjoined by the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 5:2, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Corinthians 5:11; Titus 3:10); it was also practiced by him (1 Timothy 1:20).

2. It is the legitimate and becoming method. Any interference by a Christian Church with civil rights goes beyond the Word of the Lord, brings the Church into conflict with the secular power, and is likely to lead to confusion and trouble. Exclusion from its own fellowship is a natural and incontestable right.

3. It is sometimes the only course that is open. It is needful for the purity of the Church itself; the leaven must not injure the whole lump. It is needful also for the offender. And it is well to remember these two things in such a sad necessity: viz.

(1) that excommunication was resorted to in apostolic times with a distinct view to the benefit of the offender (1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Timothy 1:20); and

(2) that of two cases reported in Scripture, one relates the restoration of the excommunicated member (2 Corinthians 2:6-8). Let the Church make paramount the preservation of its own purity, but let it encourage, expect, and welcome penitence.—C.

Verses 47-59


LEPROSY IN CLOTHES (Leviticus 13:47-59). To account for the use of the name leprosy in this connection, an ingenious theory has been propounded that the same cause produced a like effect in the human frame in clothes and in houses. "There is here described a disease whose cause must have been of organic growth, capable of living in the human being and of creating there a foul and painful disease of contagious character, while it could also live and reproduce itself in garments of wool, linen, or skin; nay, more, it could attach itself to the walls of a house and there also effect its own reproduction. Animalcules, always capable of choice, would scarcely be found so transferable, and we are therefore justified in supposing that green or red fungi, so often seen in epidemic periods, were the protean disease of man and his garment and his house" (Dr. Mitchell, 'Five Essays'). It is not necessary to have recourse to this tempting but unproved hypothesis, inasmuch as the similarity of appearance presented by the two affections is enough to account for their going by the same name. Leprosy in garments and in leather is a mildew which cannot be got rid of, called leprosy by analogy. Like other causes of uncleanness, it makes the material unclean, because it gives a repulsive appearance to it, reminding the beholder of the disease which it resembles. "Leprosy in linen and woolen fabrics or clothes consisted in all probability in nothing but so-called mildew, which commonly arises from damp and want of air, and consists, in the case of linen, of round, partially coloured spots, which spread and gradually eat up the fabric, until it falls to pieces like mould. In leather, the mildew consists more strictly of' holes eaten in,' and is of a greenish, reddish, or whitish colour, according to the species of the delicate cryptu-gami by which it has been formed ' (Keil).

Leviticus 13:47

Whether it be a woolen garment, or a linen garment. Wool and flax are the two materials for clothes mentioned in Deuteronomy 22:11; Proverbs 31:13; Hosea 2:7.

Leviticus 13:48

Whether it be in the warp, or woof. It is hardly possible that such a fault as leprosy or mildew could appear in one set of the threads without affecting the others, provided that both were equally good when they were made up into the cloth; but it is quite possible that a heap of yarn, used either for the warp or for the woof, might have been injuriously affected before it was woven, and then the fault would naturally make its appearance where the mischief had been originally done. Whether in a skin, or in anything made of skin. An example of the first would be a sheepskin cloak; the second would designate anything made of leather.

Leviticus 13:49-59

The priest is to deal with the texture as nearly as may be in the same way that lie dealt with the human subject, in order to discriminate between a tempo-rare discoloration and a real leprosy. He shall shut up it that hath the plague seven days (Leviticus 13:50), may, as before, mean, he shall bind up the place affected seven days. If the priest judges that it is leprosy, he is to burn the garment, if not, to tear out the piece affected, whether it be in the warp, or in the woof, that is, in whatever part it appears, and to wash the remainder twice. The expression, whether it be bare within or without, literally, whether it be bald in the head thereof or in the forehead thereof, means, "whether the fault appear in the front or in the back of the texture."


Leviticus 13:47-59

On purity of garments,

There are passages in different parts of Holy Scripture which it is necessary to put together in order to get a comprehensive view of what only at first sight appears to be a slight subject.

I. The first result of the Fall was a consciousness of sin on the part of Adam and Eve, which caused a sense of their nakedness. This nakedness they in vain attempted to cover by aprons of fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). But their self-made covering was not sufficient; they "were afraid because they were naked, and they hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden" (Genesis 3:8, Genesis 3:10). God's first gift to man after sentence had been passed upon him was that of clothes: "Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them" (Genesis 3:21). This gift is the more significant in that the Hebrew word used for "atonement" is "covering." Here, then, in God's first gift to man was foreshadowed his future gift of an atonement. "The outward and corporeal here manifestly had respect to the inward and spiritual. The covering of the nakedness was a gracious token from the hand of God that the sin which had alienated them from him and made them conscious of uneasiness was henceforth to be in his sight as if it were not; so that in covering their flesh, he at the same time covered their consciences.… It was done purposely to denote the covering of guilt from the eye of Heaven—an act which God alone could have done" (Fairbairn, 'Typology of Scripture'). The more that we consider the force of the Hebrew term for "atonement," the more significance shall we attach to the first gift of coats. "To expiate, literally, to cover up, does not mean to cause a sin not to have been committed, Jot that is impossible; nor to represent it as having no existence, for that would be opposed to the earnestness of the Law; nor to pay or compensate it by any performance; but to cover it before God, i.e; to deprive it of its power to come between us and God" (Kahnis).

II. We have seen with what care God appointed "holy garments" for the Jewish priesthood, "for glory and for beauty" (Exodus 28:2, Exodus 28:40; Exodus 39:1-43; Exodus 8:7-9), and special instructions are afterwards given as to the dress to be worn by the high priest when he entered the holy of holies (Leviticus 16:1-34.; cf. Psalms 132:1).

III. Uncleanness derived from the touch of unclean things entailed washing the clothes worn at the time (Leviticus 11:28, Leviticus 11:40; Leviticus 16:26).

IV. In Zechariah 3:3-5 we read, "Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel. And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, anti I will clothe thee with change of raiment. And I said, Let them set a fair mitre upon his heal. So they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord stood by." Here we are directly taught that filthy garments typify iniquity, and that the removal of filthy garments typifies the passing away of iniquity. Isaiah explains the meaning of the putting on of new garments: "He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels" (Isaiah 61:10).

From these passages of the Old Testament we find that clothing is connected with the idea of atonement, that God will not he approached except in holy garments, that foul garments typify iniquity, that garments which have contracted ceremonial uncleanness must be washed, that clean garments typify salvation and righteousness.

From the New Testament we learn what are the materials of the robe of salvation. They are the righteousness of Christ imputed to man—such is the argument of the Epistle to the Romans and the Epistle to the Galatians—and the righteousness inwrought in man by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost—"for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints" (Revelation 19:8). If these form the materials of the Christian's spiritual raiment, there will appear no leprosy or mildew either in warp or woof. But if in place of one of these there be employed human merit or sanctity or other material, the plague will appear in the garment. "And the priest 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 a spreading plague; thou shall burn that wherein the plague is with fire." But there is this difference between leprosy in the garment and leprosy in the flesh, that in the former case the man may still be saved: "It shall he revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.… If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire" (1 Corinthians 3:13-15). And therefore St. Jude, in special reference to this passage, writes, "And of some have compassion, making a difference: and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh" (Jud Jude 1:22, Jude 1:23). The Christian is to hold in abhorrence "the garment" defiled with a like disease to that which attacks "the flesh," and is to cast it into the fire, but at the same time he is to "pull" the wearer himself "out of the fire," "saving" him "with fear." If the disease be true leprosy, but has not penetrated deeper than the garment, the garment must be burnt, but the wearer may still be "saved; yet so as by fire;" it will be a work of "fear" and anxiety. If it be not true leprosy, and even if it be—for here the antitype transcends the type—it will be possible to "wash his robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Revelation 7:14).

Warning—"I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear" (Revelation 3:18). "Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame" (Revelation 16:15). "Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless" (Matthew 22:12).


Leviticus 13:47-59

Impure surroundings.

Our garments are our immediate surroundings, and there may be in them as well as in ourselves that which is offensive and "unclean." There was an impurity in the garment as well as in the human body against which the Law provided. The classing of clothes and houses with the human skin as leprous, "has moved the mirth of some and the wonder of others … but the analogy between the insect which frets the human skin and that which frets the garment that covers it, between the fungous growth that lines the crevices of the epidermis and that which creeps in the interstices of masonry, is close enough for the purposes of ceremonial law." The legal provision here made for the leprous garment suggests to us—


1. Depraved tastes and cravings in our body (for the body is the immediate clothing of the spirit).

2. Unholy companionships.

3. Corrupt political associations.

4. Impure, demoralizing books (or any form of hurtful literature).

5. Injurious occupation—that which wounds the conscience or enfeebles the inner life.

6. A deadening Church—a religious society where the form without the power of godliness is left.

II. THE DIVINELY SUGGESTED TREATMENT OF THEM. We gather from these verses that we should:

1. Exercise vigilance in detecting. With the same carefulness with which the priest made himself sure in the matter of the leprous garment (Leviticus 13:50-57), we must make certain whether there be in any of our surroundings—or of those for whom we are responsible—the plague which will work spiritual mischief in the heart and ultimate ruin to the character.

2. Make serious effort to cleanse. If, after seven days, there had been no spreading of the plague, the priest was to wash the garment (Leviticus 13:54), and if the plague departed, it was to be washed a second time, and then it was clean (Leviticus 13:58). All that was salvable was to be saved. If by vigorous and repeated washing any spotted garment could be preserved, it was not to be destroyed. All that is reformable in our institutions and surroundings must be reformed. We must cleanse where we can make pure and where it is unnecessary to destroy. But sometimes we must:

3. Unscrupulously destroy. When unmistakable signs of leprosy appeared, the priest was to "burn that garment;" it was to "be burnt in the fire" (Leviticus 13:52). When we find in anything that surrounds us and that is exerting an influence upon us, that which is really hurtful to us—that which would lead us astray from God, we must sacrifice it altogether, at whatever cost. Our belongings must be put into the fire rather than be permitted to stain our soul.—C.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Leviticus 13". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/leviticus-13.html. 1897.
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