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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged
Leviticus 13

 

 

Verse 1

And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, saying,

No JFB commentary on this verse.


Verse 2

When a man shall have in the skin of his flesh a rising, a scab, or bright spot, and it be in the skin of his flesh like the plague of leprosy; then he shall be brought unto Aaron the priest, or unto one of his sons the priests:

When a man shall have in the skin ... The fact of the following rules for distinguishing the plague of leprosy being incorporated with the Hebrew code of laws proves the existence of the odious disease among that people. But a short time-little more than a year, if so long a period-had elapsed since the exodus, when symptoms of leprosy seem extensively to have appeared among them; and as they could not be very liable to such a cutaneous disorder amid their active journeyings, and in the dry open air of Arabia, the seeds of the disorder must have been laid in Egypt, where it has always been endemic. There is every reason to believe that this was the case-that the leprosy was not a family complaint, hereditary among the Hebrews; but that they got it from contact with the Egyptians, and from the unfavourable circumstances of their condition in the house of bondage. The great excitement and irritability of the skin in the hot and sandy regions of the East produce a far greater predisposition to leprosy of all kinds than in the cooler temperature of Europe; and cracks or blotches, inflammations, or even contusions of the skin, very often lead to these, to some extent, in Arabia and Palestine, but particularly, in Egypt. Besides, the subjugated and distressed state of the Hebrews in the latter country, and the nature of their employment, must have rendered them very liable to this, as well as to various other blemishes and misaffections of the skin, in the production of which there are no causes more active or powerful than a depressed state of body and mind, hard labour under a burning sun, the body constantly covered with the excoriating dust of brickfields, and an impoverished diet-to all of which the Israelites were exposed whilst under the Egyptian bondage.

It appears that, in consequence of these hardships, there was, even after they had left Egypt, a general predisposition among the Hebrews to the contagious forms of leprosy-so that it often occurred as a consequence of various other affections of the skin. And hence, all cutaneous blemishes or blains-especially such as had a tendency to terminate in leprosy-were watched with a jealous eye from the first (Good's 'Study of Medicine'). A swelling [ s


Verses 3-6

And the priest shall look on the plague in the skin of the flesh: and when the hair in the plague is turned white, and the plague in sight be deeper than the skin of his flesh, it is a plague of leprosy: and the priest shall look on him, and pronounce him unclean.

The priest shall look ... The leprosy, as covering the person with a white scaly scurf, has always been accounted an offensive blemish rather than a serious malady in the East, unless when it assumed its less common and malignant forms. When a Hebrew priest, after a careful inspection, discovered under the cutaneous blemish the distinctive signs of contagious leprosy, the person was immediately pronounced unclean, and is supposed to have been sent out of the camp to a lazaretto provided for that purpose. If the symptoms appeared to be doubtful, he ordered the person to be kept in domestic confinement for seven days, when he was subjected to a second examination; and if, during the previous week, the eruption had subsided, or appeared to be harmless, he was instantly discharged. But if the eruption continued unabated and still doubtful, he was put under surveillance for another week; at the end of which the character of the disorder never failed to manifest itself, and he was either doomed to perpetual exclusion from society, or allowed to go at large.

Leviticus 13:6. If the plague be somewhat dark , [ keehaah (Hebrew #3544) hanega` (Hebrew #5061)] - if the spot become faint or pale [Septuagint, amaura, faint or slight - i:e., beginning to disappear, Tih


Verse 7-8

But if the scab spread much abroad in the skin, after that he hath been seen of the priest for his cleansing, he shall be seen of the priest again:

But if the scab spread much. Those doubtful cases, when they assumed a malignant character, appeared in one of two forms, apparently according to the particular constitution of the skin or of the habit generally. The one was "somewhat dark" - i:e., the obscure or dusky leprosy, in which the natural colour of the hair, which in Egypt and Palestine is black, is not changed, as is repeatedly said in the sacred code, nor is there any depression in the dusky spot, while the patches, instead of keeping stationary to their first size, are perpetually enlarging their boundary. The patient labouring under this form was pronounced unclean by the Hebrew priest or physician, and hereby sentenced to a separation from his family and friends-a decisive proof of its being contagious.


Verse 9

When the plague of leprosy is in a man, then he shall be brought unto the priest;

No JFB commentary on this verse.


Verses 10-17

And the priest shall see him: and, behold, if the rising be white in the skin, and it have turned the hair white, and there be quick raw flesh in the rising;

If the rising be white. This BRIGHT WHITE leprosy is the most malignant and inveterate of all the varieties the disease exhibits, and it was marked by the following distinctive signs:-a glossy white and spreading scale, upon an elevated base, the elevation depressed in the middle, but without a change of colour; the black hair on the patches participating in the whiteness; 'quick' - i:e., live, raw flesh in the rising; i:e., ulcerating, and the scaly patches themselves perpetually enlarging their boundary. Several of these characters, taken separately, belong to other blemishes of the skin as well, so that none of them was to be taken alone; and it was only when the whole of them concurred, that the Jewish priest, in his capacity of physician, was to pronounce the disease a malignant leprosy. If it spread over the entire frame without producing any ulceration, it lost its contagious power by degrees; or, in other words, ran through its course and exhausted itself. In that case, there being no longer any fear of further evil either to the individual himself or to the community, the patient was declared clean by the priest, while the dry scales were yet upon him, and restored to society. If, on the contrary, the patches ulcerated, and quick or fungous flesh sprang up in them, the purulent matter of which, if brought into contact with the skin of other persons, would be taken into the constitution by means of absorbent vessels, the priest was at once to pronounce it an inveterate leprosy; a temporary confinement was declared to be totally unnecessary, and he was regarded as unclean for life (Dr. Good).

'It is evident,' says Dr. Mead ('Medica Sacra, p. 14), 'that two species of the disease are described in these verses; one in which the skin was ulcerated, so that the live flesh appeared underneath; the other, in which there was an efflorescent appearance on the surface of the skin, which also became rough, and in a manner scaly. From this distinction the former disease was contagious, and the latter not. For scales like bran, dry and light, do not penetrate the skin; but it is purulent matter, discharged from ulcers, which infects the surface of the body.'

Other skin affections, which had a tendency to terminate in leprosy, though they were not decided symptoms when alone, were,


Verses 18-23

The flesh also, in which, even in the skin thereof, was a boil, and is healed,

a boil , [ sh


Verses 24-28

Or if there be any flesh, in the skin whereof there is a hot burning, and the quick flesh that burneth have a white bright spot, somewhat reddish, or white; a hot burning , [ mikwat (Hebrew #4348) 'eesh (Hebrew #784); Septuagint, katakauma puros], a fiery inflammation or carbuncle; and


Verses 29-37

If a man or woman have a plague upon the head or the beard;

a dry scall , [ neteq (Hebrew #5424); Septuagint, thrausma], when the leprosy was distinguished by being in sight deeper than the skin, and the hair became thin and yellow [ tsaahob (Hebrew #6669), gold-coloured].

'So very variable are the appearances which this disease produces on the head affected by it, that it has received no less than 20 different names. It is most commonly known under the scientific names of porrigo, herpes, alopecia (baldness), tinea, and popularly as scald head and ringworm. Some forms of it attack children almost exclusively, and are found only among the poor, where there is not sufficient attention to cleanliness; while others occur at all ages, and in all ranks and conditions of society. The effects which it produces are no less variable than its forms, ranging from the small, brown, scurfy spots which at a certain period cover the head of every child, and which a few vigorous applications of soft soap and water will remove, to those extreme cases where it disorganizes the whole order of the scalp, and seriously affects the general health. Its varying appearances and effects are in all likelihood caused by the different stages of development of the parasitic plant (the Achorion Schonleinii) which produces all these abnormal appearances on the human head, by its greater or less abundance on the parts affected, and the more or less favourable circumstances in which it is placed. The form which it most frequently exhibits is that of rounded patches of thick yellowish scales, marked by numerous depressions, at first very small, but gradually increasing and invading larger surfaces. The hairs on the parts affected are dull, dry, and colourless, exceedingly brittle, and easily extracted, broken off close to the skin, and covered with greyish-white dust. It is described with sufficient accuracy in this passage of Leviticus.

Examined under the microscope, the hairs are found to be considerably swollen, with nodosities here and there, produced by masses of sporules or seeds embedded between the longitudinal fibres. The bulbs are flattened or destroyed altogether; the ends have a very ragged appearance, resembling in miniature the ends of a piece of wood, which has been broken across; while the medullary portion, or the pith, of the hair is quite disorganized, owing to the pressure of the plant, which appears enveloping; it, either as isolated spores or as chains of cells. The disease may last an indefinite length of time, but it usually terminates in the obliteration of the hair-follicles and permanent baldness of the affected parts. It is far more severe in foreign countries than in this-instances being numerous where it has completely removed the hair from the whole head, eyebrows, and beard, leaving them completely smooth and naked, impairing the constitution when so extensively developed, and when children are the subjects, arresting their growth. A very formidable type of it occurs in Poland under the name of Plica polonica. But it is particularly malignant in the warm countries of the South and East. The manners and occupations, as well as the food of the inhabitants are peculiarly favourable to the production of those abnormal growths, while the heat and moisture of the climate push them into excessive development (see 'Des Vegetaux qui croissent sur l'Homme, et sur les Animaux vivants,' by M. Robin, Paris, 1862; a review of this work, and two articles entitled 'Human Vegetation,' Macmillan's Magazine, vol. 6:, May-Oct., 1862).


Verse 38-39

If a man also or a woman have in the skin of their flesh bright spots, even white bright spots;

If a man also or a woman have in the skin of their flesh bright spots. This modification of the leprosy is distinguished by a dull-white colour [it is called l


Verse 40-41

And the man whose hair is fallen off his head, he is bald; yet is he clean.

Bald ... forehead bald. The falling off of the hair is another symptom which creates a suspicion of leprosy, when the baldness commences in the back part of the head. But it was not of itself a decisive sign unless when taken in connection with other tokens-a 'sore of a reddish white colour.' [ nega` (Hebrew #5061) laabaan (Hebrew #3836) '


Verses 42-44

And if there be in the bald head, or bald forehead, a white reddish sore; it is a leprosy sprung up in his bald head, or his bald forehead.

No JFB commentary on these verses.


Verse 45

And 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.

The leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent ... The person who was declared affected with the leprosy forthwith exhibited all the tokens of suffering from a heavy calamity. Rending garments and uncovering the head were common signs of mourning. [ paaruwa` (Hebrew #6544), signifies bare, naked, also 'free;' and hence, some render it, as the Arabic version does, 'forbore to cut or shave his hair,' (Parkhurst, on paara` (Hebrew #6544), No. 8:)]

As to 'the putting a covering upon the upper lip,' that means either wearing a moustache, as the Hebrews used to shave the upper lip (Calmet), or simply keeping a hand over it, or veiling the mouth [Septuagint, peri to stoma autou peribalesthoo, covered around the mouth] (cf. Ezekiel 24:17; Ezekiel 24:22; Micah 3:7, where, though our version has lips, the Hebrew reads lip). The Hebrew word occurs 2 Samuel 19:24 (25), and is rendered by our translators 'beard' [Septuagint, mustax, properly moustache, but here 'beard'], which being held in high estimation, to hide or cover it was a sign of great sorrow or shame.

This Hebrew custom of covering the lip or lips in the season of calamity may receive illustration from the practice of the modern Jews in Barbary, whose mourning rites are thus described by Dean Addison (p. 218): 'They return from the grave to the house of the deceased, where one who is chief mourner receives them, with his jaws tied up with a linen cloth. Thus muffled the mourner goes for seven days.' The rite used by the leper-namely, covering his lip or mouth when pronounced by the priest unclean-`was probably similar to the mourning usage of the Barbary Jews.' All these external marks of grief were intended to proclaim, in addition to his own exclamation, "Unclean!" that the person was a leper, whose company everyone must shun.


Verse 46

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.

Dwell alone; without the camp - in a lazaretto by himself, or associated with other lepers (Numbers 12:15; 2 Kings 7:3; 2 Kings 7:8). Lepers are subjected to the same doom of social expulsion in the modern countries of the East, where the slightest ascertained taint of the malady carries with it a seclusion tantamount to banishment from the rest of the community, or even to perpetual detention in a lazaret. Enactments for the arrest and imprisonment of lepers have been proposed and passed even within the last few years in some of the Indian colonies of the British empire. In the villages of Syria lepers are required to go to Damascus, or some other town, where there may be a public asylum; and if they will not conform to this rule, they are forced to live in a cave, hut, or booth of green boughs outside the village, where they remain in perpetual quarantine (see instances, 'The Land and the Book;' vol. 1:, p. 286; Rogers' 'Domestic Life in Palestine,' p. 16).


Verses 47-59

The garment also that the plague of leprosy is in, whether it be a woollen garment, or a linen garment;

The garment ... that the ... leprosy is in. 'It is well known that infectious diseases-such as scarlet fever, measles, the plague-are latently imbibed and carried by the clothes. But the language of this passage clearly indicates a disease to which clothes themselves were subject, and which was followed by effects on them analogous to those which malignant leprosy produces on the human body; because similar regulations were made for the rigid inspection of suspected garments by a priest, as for the examination of a leprous person.

It has long been conjectured, and recently ascertained by the use of a lens, that the leprous condition of swine is produced by myriads of minute insects engendered in their skin; and regarding all leprosy as of the same nature, it is thought that this affords a sufficient reason for the injunction in the Mosaic law to destroy the clothes in which the disease, after careful observation, seemed to manifest itself. Clothes are sometimes seen contaminated by this disease in the West Indies and the southern parts of America (Whitelaw's 'Code of Health'); and it may be presumed that, as the Hebrews were living in the desert, where they had not the convenience of frequent changes and washing, the clothes they wore, and the skin mats on which they lay, would be apt to breed infectious vermin, which, being settled in the stuff, would imperceptibly gnaw it, and leave stains similar to those described by Moses. It is well known that the wool of sheep dying of disease, if it had not been shorn from the animal while living, and also skins, if not thoroughly prepared by scouring, are liable to the effects described in this passage.

Whether it be a woollen garment, or a linen garment. These are specified, because the dresses of the Hebrews consisted exclusively of one or other of these materials. [ beged (Hebrew #899) denotes the outer robe (Genesis 39:12-13; Genesis 39:15; Genesis 41:42; 2 Kings 22:10; 2 Chronicles 18:19), which was commonly made of wool, the staple material for the manufacture of clothing; for, while among the Egyptians woolen garments were worn principally by the lower classes, rarely by the grandees, and occasionally even by the priests, they were much more common among the Hebrews, whose numerous flocks furnished an abundant supply of fleeces (cf. Deuteronomy 22:11; 2 Kings 3:4; Job 31:20; Proverbs 31:13; Isaiah 1:18; Ezekiel 34:3; Hosea 2:5). Pishtiym (Hebrew #6593), plural of pishteh (Hebrew #6593), which is a general term, including all kinds of linen, and, being joined with beged (Hebrew #899), denotes a linen garment.]

Verse 48. Whether it be in the warp, or woof, of linen, or of woollen - literally, whether it is in the warp or woof, for the flax or for the wool-pishtah being used sometimes for the plant (Exodus 9:31; Joshua 2:6; Judges 15:14), and tsemer (Hebrew #6785) for the fleece, as distinct from the woven fabric (Judges 6:37). This sense the words evidently bear in the latter part of the clause, which is accordingly rendered by the Septugint, ee en tois linois ee en tois eriois, either in the flax or in the wool. It is the only intelligible view that can be taken of them, as it would be difficult or impossible to discern, on a corroding spot appearing in fabricated stuffs, whether the disease were in the warp or in the woof; but very easy if the reference is considered as made to the materials before being interwoven in the loom - i:e., as they existed separately, whether in the raw state or in that of yarn. A similar distinction is made in regard to skins in their, natural and their artificial form, such as bottles.

Verse 49-59. If the plague be greenish or reddish in the garment, or in the skin. The appearance of such stains was the first symptom that excited suspicion; and immediately, consequent upon the discovery of the alarming spots, the affected garment was to be brought under the notice of the priest, who shut it up for a week. At the end of that period it was subjected to another careful inspection: and if the coloured stain was found to have enlarged its range, that was considered decisive of its being [ tsaara`at (Hebrew #6883) mam'eret (Hebrew #3992)] a "fretting" - literally, an exasperated or malignant - "leprosy;" and on this verdict being pronounced, the garment was consigned to the flames.

But should it have appeared, on the second inspection, not to have been spreading, the priest, having ordered it to be washed, shut it up for another experimental week, when one of two results followed. If after the application of the water the stain remained unchanged in appearance, he was to pronounce it unclean; because the disease, though it had not extended, was (Leviticus 13:55), by 'fretting toward,' corroding the substance of the woven fabric or leather. If, on re-examination, the spot appeared to be fading, it was to be cut out of the stuff; and should a similar spot appear in any other part of the garment, it was 'a spreading leprosy,' and the material in which it had developed itself was to be burned. The cloth or skin, however, was, in the first instance, to undergo a vigorous process of ablution; and should that new spot be removable by water, the garment was washed a second time, and then pronounced "clean."

Maimonides states that, according to Jewish canons, cloth manufactured of camels' hair and sheep's wool, when the quantity of the former exceeded that of the latter, garments and skins that were dyed, and articles formed of the skins of aquatic animals, were not included among the materials embraced in this ordinance. But no exceptions are stated in the original code; and the wisdom of the legislator is manifested by his making the course prescribed imperative in the case of all corroding cloths or skins adapted for personal apparel or domestic use. It is probable that in rude state of society, consisting, to a large extent, bricklayers and emancipated slave-labourers, among whom clothing would frequently be kept in a state of sordid neglect, such minute and stringent regulations were absolutely necessary for preventing the mischievous consequences which the climate might produce. In these circumstances, an active as well as strict surveillance was imperatively demanded as a measure of sanatory precaution; and no general interdict could have produced a practical effect in allaying popular apprehensions, ready to be excited by any rumour of infection, as well as in promoting a general attention to cleanliness, equal to the act, enforced by public authority, of destroying every polluted article of clothing.

The leprosy in garments has long been a source of perplexity to biblical commentators, who have made vain attempts to explain the occult phenomenon. Michaelis considered the woollen stuffs which exhibited in some parts a threadbare appearance, and afterward broke into holes, had been manufactured from the wool of diseased sheep, that was favourable to the production of vermin; and Calmet ascribed the effects here described to the ravages of animalculae, which gnawed the texture. But neither of these hypotheses is sufficient to satisfy all the conditions of the sacred narrative, especially to account for the diverse coloration of the corroding patches in the clothes.

It is now the established belief, founded on the observation of analogous facts, that the green and reddish plague-spots had most probably a cryptogamous origin-were caused by a mould-`a fungus'-which is the most protean of all plants, assuming different forms on different substances, but familiar to us in the green, light, fleecy covering which it spreads over old shoes, stale pieces of bread, or cast-off clothes left in damp, ill-ventilated places.

The red leprosy of garments has played a somewhat remarkable part in history. It was very common in the Middle Ages, occuring often before the outbreak of epidemics, which it was supposed to herald-appearing suddenly on the sacramental host, and on the vestments of priests-and was regarded with superstitious fear as a signaculum, or omen of gloomy presage.

The researches of microscopists have dispelled the mystery and terror which surrounded it for so many ages, and resolved it into a mere collection of minute and simple fungi ('British and Foreign Evangelical Review,' No. 47:; article 'Biblical Botany,' by H. Macmillan).

With regard to leprosy in the person, it appears that, though sometimes inflicted as a miraculous judgment (Numbers 12:10; 2 Kings 5:27), it was a natural disease, well known in Eastern countries still; but the term, as used in this popular, unscientific history, seems to have been applied to any cutaneous eruption of an extensive range or a disgusting appearance. In the more accurate nomenclature of modern times, lepra and leprosy are considered as strictly applicable to diseases of the skin characterized by, scaly patches of a white, shining colour, of different sizes, but generally of a circular shape. This species of leprosy, which may extend over the whole surface of the body, and often lasts for years without producing any constitutional derangement, is not contagious.

In a report by the Royal College of Physicians, prepared a few years ago for the Secretary of State for the British colonies, it is stated that, in return to interrogatories despatched to all the colonies, as well as to various other parts of the world, an immense mass of evidence was obtained, which having been elaborately digested and collated clearly established these important points-That leprosy is not communicable by proximity or contact with the diseased, and that there is not 'anything which justifies measures for the compulsory segregation of lepers' ('British Medical Journal'). This common form of the disease is what is described in Leviticus 13:13 of this chapter, and its non-contagious character was well-known in the Mosaic age. But under the general designation of leprosy, several varieties of cutaneous disease are comprised, differing in degrees of malignity, all of which, under the irritating influence of the climate, would then, as similar affections do still, become rapidly virulent and dangerous. A combination of natural causes, specified at the beginning of the chapter, predisposed the Israelites to disorders of the skin; and it is probable that the extensive prevalence of these shortly after the Exodus necessitated at that time the enactment of the strict and severe regulations to which those afflicted by such distempers were subjected. Considered even from a sanitary point of view, the rules prescribed by the Hebrew legislator for distinguishing the true character and varieties of the disease, are far superior to the method of treatment now followed in the same quarter of the world, and evince the divine wisdom by which he was guided.

But the course prescribed was special; and the fact that every suspected case was brought for examination-not to an elder, nor to any of the heads of houses, but to a priest, as was done continuously until the time of our Lord (Matthew 8:4) - proves that it was designed, not solely for sanatory; but still more for ritual purposes. It was intended and calculated to impress the minds of the people with a conviction that trouble, whether in a mild or a severe form, proceeded from God, and was a punishment of sin-more especially that leprosy, the victim of which was considered as dead, was the external symbol of sin in its deepest malignity-involving entire separation from God and His people, and leading to spiritual death. The laws enacted, therefore, by divine authority regarding leprosy, while they pointed in the first instance to sanatory ends, were at the same time designed, by stimulating to carefulness against ceremonial defilement, to foster a spirit of religious fear and inward purity.

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Leviticus 13:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/leviticus-13.html. 1871-8.

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