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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Leviticus 14





The sacrifices and ceremonies used in the purification of the leper: the signs of leprosy in a house: the purification of that house.

Before Christ 1490.

Verse 2

Leviticus 14:2. He shall be brought unto the priest The priests, being instructed in the diagnostics of the leprosy, are now informed, what ceremonies and sacrifices were to be used for the purification of the leper, when it appeared that his leprosy was healed. The reader will observe, what we have before remarked, that these ceremonies were not used for the purpose of healing the disorder, but for the legal purification of the leper when healed; (see Leviticus 14:3.) and for this reason, instead of the words cleansing and cleansed in this chapter, it would be more proper to use purifying and purified, which would be equally agreeable to the original. The leper being excluded from the camp now, as afterwards from the city, the priest was to go forth to him without the camp, and there inspect him. When our Saviour, by his omnipotent word, healed the leper, he commanded him to go, and shew himself unto the priest.

Verse 4

Leviticus 14:4. Two birds alive and clean The Vulgate renders this, two sparrows; and so it is rendered in the margin of our English Bibles: but the original is general, and expresses two small birds of any kind; as, indeed, the designation of clean evidently shews, since, if sparrows had been meant, it would have been superfluous to have added clean, supposing the whole species to have been so; and it would have been very absurd to have required a clean sparrow if the whole species had been esteemed unclean. As the leper was to be sprinkled, an aspergillum, or instrument for sprinkling, is ordered to be made of a stick of cedar-wood, upon which a bunch of hyssop was to be bound with a scarlet thread; many reasons for which have been assigned, some natural, some moral. Naturalists assert, that the juice or resin of cedar, together with hyssop, were esteemed good for cutaneous disorders; that the former, in particular, was of service to cure the elephantiasis; and that hyssop was of virtue to dissolve spots, and recover the colour of the skin: and though it is not conceivable, that the bare sprinkling at the time of purification could be of any consequence in respect to the cure; yet, possibly, these things might have been previously made use of in the cure, and be now used, with propriety, as remembrancers of it. Hyssop is spoken of as a purifier, both in a natural and moral sense: purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Psalms 51:7. Accordingly Abarbanel says, that the living bird denoted that the dead flesh of the leper was restored to life: the cedar-wood, which is not easily corrupted, that he was cured of his putrefaction; the scarlet wool, that he was restored to his good complexion; and the hyssop, which is purgative and odoriferous, that his disease, and every thing disagreeable to the smell, was purged off. Others, however, and with more reason, apply these things to the purification of the soul by the sacrifice of the blood of Christ. See the note on Exodus 12:22.

Verse 5

Leviticus 14:5. In an earthen vessel, over running water Living water, in the original, i.e. fountain or river water, which was esteemed most pure; and it would be better so to translate it, because the bird was not to be killed over running water, properly speaking, but over the bason filled with this fountain or river water. This done, the ceremonies mentioned in the next verses were to be performed, and the living bird let loose; to shew, say some, that the leper was restored to a free conversation with his neighbours, as the bird was with the rest of its kind. The solemn rite or ceremony here prescribed, according to Spencer, was ordained to signify, that the leprous person owned the God of Israel to be the Lord both of heaven and earth, and that his help came from Jehovah who made both, Psalms 121:2 and this, as he apprehends, in opposition to the Gentile polytheism, particularly to their distinction of gods of the superior, and gods of the infernal regions, both of whom were worshipped by oblation of birds; the former by letting them fly up into the air, the latter by killing them. Parker, however, from the Fathers, remarks, that the interpretation, which refers all this to the Christian system, is not to be forgotten; as the bird killed very fitly typified the death of Christ, so did the living one, dismissed into the open air, his resurrection and ascension. Bochart, observing an analogy between this living bird and the scape-goat, makes both of them types of our Saviour's resurrection; and the bird slain, and the goat sacrificed, types of his death. See the last note on this chapter, and the reflections following.

Verse 8

Leviticus 14:8. Shall wash his clothes, &c.— All these ceremonies were no less productive, than they were demonstrative, of entire purification: and, as the disorder was so contagious, a seven days exclusion was reasonably enjoined to prevent all infection, and to shew that the disease was perfectly cured; after which the leper was deemed pure, and was re-admitted to all the privileges of society.

REFLECTIONS.—1. If the leper was cured, the priest went forth to him to view him. Though a sinner has, for a time, given himself up to his own heart's desires, yet, when he is willing through grace to return, we must charitably lend our helping hand. 2. After careful inspection, if he appeared clean, the priest was to pronounce him such, after the proper solemnities were performed. We should neither be too suspicious, nor too credulous, respecting the reality of grace in men's hearts, but, after serious observation, judge according to our best knowledge, agreeably to charity and God's word. 3. In respect to the birds, one of which was to be killed, and his blood mixed with water; and the other to be let loose. Note; (1.) If our souls be sprinkled with that blood and water which flowed from the Saviour's wounded side, then shall we be presented before the tabernacle of God, without spot or blemish, or any such thing. (2.) They who are delivered from the power and guilt of sin, as birds escaped from the snare of the fowler, rejoice in their liberty, and fly away towards heaven on wings of faith and love. 4. The person cleansed was to wash, and shave off all his hair, &c. Thus they, who are saved by the blood of Jesus, will use diligence to cleanse themselves, that they may appear, in the congregation of God's people, to have put off the old man, and to have put on the new man, which, after Christ, is renewed in righteousness and true holiness.

Verse 10

Leviticus 14:10. One log of oil A log was the smallest measure among the Hebrews, and contained, according to Dr. Cumberland, somewhat more than half a pint of our measure. The first offering to be made by the leper on his return to the place of God's worship was a trespass-offering, Leviticus 14:12 a proper act of humiliation for sin; which is the source of all those pains, and diseases to which both the bodies and souls of men are obnoxious, and of which the leprosy was thought to be strongly emblematical: after this, other offerings were made, testifying the leper's homage and gratitude to his Deliverer.

Verse 14

Leviticus 14:14. The priest shall put it upon the tip of the right ear See the note on Exodus 29:20.

Verse 20

Leviticus 14:20. The priest shall offer the burnt-offering From the whole of the preceding account we learn what was the gift which our Saviour enjoined the leper, according to custom, to offer as a testimony to the priest, Matthew 8:4. For these gifts and various ceremonies were not only designed as testimonies to shew that the leper was perfectly cured, and men might therefore associate with him; but also, as being burdensome and chargeable, to make men cautious of contracting so loathsome a distemper. This burnt-offering, being in the nature of a present to God in gratitude for having worked the cure, was not to be offered till, by the other offerings for trespass and sin, the man had made public profession of his repentance, without which his gift could not find acceptance at God's altar.

REFLECTIONS.—When God has restored us again from sickness to visit his tabernacle, it becomes us to appear with our grateful acknowledgments for the mercy. The leper was before pronounced clean: now he is introduced as such to the door of the congregation, with his three lambs, a meat-offering, and log of oil. The trespass-offering is first killed, and the blood applied to the ear, thumb, and toe of the person; signifying now his being wholly clean, and typifying the application of the blood of atonement by Jesus, the great High-Priest, to the conscience by faith: then the oil is put upon it in token of his healing. The oil of Divine Grace ever accompanies the sprinkling of atoning blood. Hereupon his sin-offering is accepted for an atonement; and his burnt-offering is a sweet savour of thanksgiving, and now he is free among the people. Note; They whose sin is pardoned, and whose leprosy is cleansed, however they may have before been separated from the faithful, will now be received with joy into the bosom of the church, and of every true Israelite.

Verse 21

Leviticus 14:21. If he be poor, and cannot get, &c.— The humanity of the Mosaic law is always discernible; provision is constantly made for the poor. Pelicanus observes well upon this place, that though there was an exchange made of two lambs for two turtle-doves, or two pigeons, in consideration of a man's poverty, yet no person whatsoever, whether rich or poor, could be cleansed without the sacrifice of one lamb; which may well be looked upon as a figure of the Lamb of God, who alone taketh away the sins of the whole world. Note; God ever testifies an especial care for the poor, and provides, that however destitute they may be of things temporal, they shall not want the spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus.

Verse 34

Leviticus 14:34. When ye be come into the land of Canaan, &c.— After having spoken of the leprosy of persons and of garments, the sacred writer proceeds to that of houses, concerning which we have already said something in the first note on the last chapter, especially with respect to the opinion derived from the words, I put the plague into a house, &c. that this was a punishment inflicted by the hand of God. "Though it is more difficult to account for the infection of houses," says Dr. Mead, "yet, upon a serious consideration of the different substances employed in building the walls of houses, such as stones, lime, bituminous earth, hair of animals, and other such things mixed together, it appears probable to me, that they may, by a kind of fermentation, produce those hollow, greenish or reddish strakes, in sight lower than the wall, or within the surface, (Leviticus 14:37.) which, as they in some measure resembled the leprosy on the human body, were named the leprosy in an house; for bodies of different natures very easily effervesce upon being blended together: wherefore we may reasonably suppose that this moisture or mouldiness, gradually coming forth and spreading on the walls, might prove very prejudicial to the inhabitants by its unwholesome smell, even without having recourse to any contagious quality in it. Something analogous to this is frequently observable in our own houses; where, when the walls are plaistered with bad mortar, the calcarious and nitrous salts sweat out upon their surface, of a colour almost as white as snow." Calmet solves this extraordinary phaenomenon upon the same principles with those mentioned before; observing, that "a particular sort of vermin was bred in the mortar and stones of the infected houses. This was one of the tokens of a house being infected. There were some others besides, which were a kind of rust or scurf, that spread itself along the walls.

In all these cases, the priests were directed to shut the house up for a week: and it is probable, they made some kind of fumigation during that time, though no mention is made of it; else we cannot see how the bare shutting it up could contribute to the cure. If, upon the opening it again, they found the marks gone, they pronounced it clean; if not, they caused them to be scraped off every where, and the house to be shut up another seven days: but if that did not work the cure, they ordered it to be demolished, and such materials of it only to be preserved as were free from the infection, in order to build it up in some other place." See Calmet's Dissert. and the Univ. Hist. vol. 3: The Jewish writers, however, judge very differently of this matter, and consider this plague as a supernatural punishment for calumny and detraction in particular; an opinion, which seems to have arisen from the case of Miriam: and they tell us, that it first infected the walls of the house, and, the offender repenting, went no further; but, if he persisted, it proceeded to his household stuff; and, if he still went on, invaded his garments, and at last his body. This opinion may, perhaps, gain some confirmation from the remarks of a physician in the southern parts of France, that the leprosy, though hereditary, never goes beyond the third, or, at the most, the fourth generation; an observation, says Michaelis, which I use to explain the 5th verse of the 20th chapter of Exodus.

Verse 45

Leviticus 14:45. He shall break down the house, &c.— Bishop Patrick observes, that all this may be considered as a figurative representation of God's proceedings toward the Jews, when they rebelled against him; for, 1st, some of them were removed, (Leviticus 14:40.) then the whole nation by degrees was very much impaired, (Leviticus 14:42.) till, at last, their degeneracy growing universal, they were all carried captive out of their own land.

Verse 53

Leviticus 14:53. Make an atonement for the house This expression has been before applied to inanimate things: for instance, to the altar, Exodus 29:36-37 and therefore can imply no more in this place than the making fit for use the thing atoned for. So in the 18th verse, applied to the leper, it signifies, the rendering him legally fit for the offices of religion and society; as here, the rendering the house fit to dwell in.

Note; 1. Masters of families should look well to their houses, and seek to stop the first appearances of sin. 2. We should remove those from us whose conversation is dangerous and infectious. 3. If error and corruption have seized generally upon a church or state, their ruin is near.

Verses 54-57

Leviticus 14:54-57. This is the law, &c.— These verses contain a recapitulation of this and the former chapter, which, however they may be despised by some, yet discover to us the goodness of God towards the Israelites, whom he had adopted for his peculiar people; and therefore he took care to give them precepts about every thing which might contribute, in any degree, to the regulation of their manners, and to their payment of an exact obedience to him. And who does not see, that, by these external rites and ceremonies, a moral lesson is taught us, admonished as we are hereby to keep pure consciences, void of offence both towards God and man, in a strict observance of all the rules of our most holy religion? This is, as it were, the voice of God to us; touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you. 2 Corinthians 6:17. The leprosy has been considered by some of the greatest writers as emblematical of vice, and of the various degrees of pollution which it occasions in the human mind: in which application of it, some commentators, especially Procopius Gazeus, and Hesychius priest of Jerusalem, have been very copious. Among our writers, many hints on this subject will be found in Ainsworth and Parker, but particularly in M'Ewen on the Types, an abstract of whose observations, for the sake of the spiritual reader, I shall give at the conclusion of this chapter. It must be acknowledged, that nothing can give us a more loathsome and disgusting idea of vice, nor, at the same time, can any thing more beautifully point out the grand remedy for all human corruption, even the blood of Christ and the sanctification of his Spirit, than the ceremonies which God has so particularly enjoined for the purification of the leper. Upon which we cannot but observe, that, if the leprosy (which was an involuntary evil, and, considered as such, defiled not the soul, yet) separated those who were infected with it from the intercourse and society of men, certainly they, who live in the foul practice of vice, can never be reputed members of the church, nor have any communion with God and the faithful, while they continue in such a state. And once more, if ceremonial defilement was so odious, how much more abominable is the filthiness of flesh and spirit in the eyes of a holy God, and how much need have we to cleanse ourselves from these, that we may be vessels meet for the Master's use!

A review of the law of the leper.

The law of the leper, which is delivered by the Hebrew lawgiver in all its minute particulars, is, indeed, a portion of sacred writ that we are apt to skim over with a heedless glance, supposing that very little instruction can be derived from such antiquated usages as were to be observed about the discovery, the separation, and the cleansing of the infected Israelite. One is apt to wonder at the distemper itself, which infected not only the bodies of men, but their garments and houses; and to be no less surprised, that the Heavenly Majesty should condescend to give such minute directions about the symptoms of the leprosy, and the manner of its cleansing. But when we consider that almost every thing about the typical nation was figurative, their diseases not excepted, perhaps we may cease to wonder, and willingly acknowledge, that here, as in other ancient rites, the body is of Christ.

The leprosy was in itself only a natural evil: it was inflicted, however, oftentimes by the immediate hand of the Lord, as the punishment of sin; as in the case of Miriam, Gehazi, and king Uzziah. That it was always, or generally, an indication of flagrant guilt, we would by no means presume to advance. But the unhappy patient, who was seized with that hateful malady, was by the divine law excluded from the cheerful society of men, and from access to the tabernacle of God, till it should please God to restore him, and the symptoms of recovery were perceived by the priest, by whom the sentence was pronounced. But let us briefly consider the history.

Was the Almighty displeased with the leprosy? was his indignation against the poor leper? Nay; he despises no man for the affliction of his body, however loathsome. A Lazarus covered with sores, and a Job with biles, are the objects of his infinite love; while the most wealthy sinner who wears the finest purple, is a vile person in his eyes. Sin is that loathsome disease, and the sinner that abominable leper, here described. "Behold, I am vile, I am a man of unclean lips, I abhor myself," is the language of the convinced soul. (Job 40:4; Job 42:6. Isaiah 6:5.) A sow wallowing in the mire, a dog returning to his vomit, and a sepulchre exhaling the stench of a putrefying carcase, are not greater nuisances to the sense, than the soul that lies in sin, to the pure eyes of God. Sin is that abhorred leprosy which spreads its dire contagion far and wide, infecting all the duties which the sinner can perform, and all the comforts which he tastes; for "to him that is defiled, and unbelieving, is nothing pure." Titus 1:15. Beware how you approach the society of the wicked, a thousand times more infectious than the company of the filthiest leper. O my soul, be not united to the assembly of those who are the workers of iniquity, if thou wouldst keep the commandments of thy God!—He who was infected with the typical leprosy, was not only in danger of defiling those with whom he conversed, but the very garments he wore, and the house in which he dwelt. But sin has subjected all creatures to the bondage of corruption. Therefore it is revealed, "the elements shall melt with fervent heat, and all these things shall be dissolved;" as the infected garment was burned with fire, and the infected house demolished from its very foundation. The leper under the law was excluded from the society of men; and when the distemper came to a great height, or infected the head, he was to use the signals of deepest mourning: but the leprosy of sin excludes the miserable soul from all intercourse with God, communion with angels, fellowship with Jesus, society with the spirits of just men, and access to the heavenly Jerusalem, where nothing that is defiled can enter. O dismal solitude! O terrible separation! With what tears shall it be deplored! What tokens of mourning are deep enough to express the melancholy state!—And, alas! we speak not of a malady which is rarely to be found. It is hereditary to all the sons of Adam without exception; for by nature "they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doth good, no not one." Psalms 53:3.

But let us attend to the rites of purification.—When it pleased God that the leprosy was removed, the leper was brought to the priest, or rather the priest to the leper: and when, upon a narrow scrutiny, it appeared that the cure was really wrought, he was pronounced clean after the performance of various ceremonies. Jesus Christ is that Priest to whom the leprous soul is brought, or rather who has condescended to come to us who could not go to him, because we were polluted in our blood without the camp, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel. He is come, not merely to cleanse them who are healed, like the legal priest, but to heal them who, without his helping hand, were absolutely incurable.—The Israelite, who was brought for cleansing to the priest, was himself to provide the necessary oblations. But the High Priest of good things to come, demands no such conditions from those who come for healing to their souls: himself has laid out the necessary charges, and has, by the one offering of himself for us, for ever perfected all them that are sanctified. But let us more narrowly attend to the typical sense of the ceremonies of purification.

1st, With respect to the two birds, the cedar-wood, scarlet, and hyssop, &c. What hinders our thinking here of the glorious mysteries of the Gospel, and lifting our thoughts to the purging of our sins by our great High-Priest? The two birds alive and clean, may denote the two Natures of Jesus Christ. The human Nature was put to death, but the Divine Nature was incapable of suffering. By the human Nature he died for our offences: by the Divine Nature he rose again for our justification. The sprinkling instrument of cedar, scarlet, and hyssop, may signify the ordinances of the Gospel, by which the blessings of Christ's death are communicated. The running [or fountain or river] water is the Spirit of Christ, who is always imparted to the heart, when the blood is sprinkled on the conscience. The earthen vessel is an emblem of the ministers of Christ, who, though frail and brittle creatures, and despicable in the eye of the world, and some but of small capacity and size, are entrusted with the invaluable treasure of Gospel-grace, to be dispensed to others. And whereas the priest was to kill one of the birds, this intimates, that "without shedding of blood there is no remission." Hebrews 9:22. He was to dip the living bird in the blood of the dead one; this imports, that the blood of Christ's humanity is, by the hypostatical union, the blood of his divinity or the blood of God, which is the very thing that renders it the blood of atonement. The sprinkling instrument of cedar, scarlet, and hyssop, was to be dipped in the same blood; for all the ordinances and all the means of salvation are sanctified by the blood of Christ alone. In this blood if we may be allowed the expression, must ministers dip their sermons, if they would be profitable to men: and in this blood must Christians dip their good works, if they expect them to be acceptable to God. The sprinkling of the leper seven times, signifies that perfect cleanness, which is by the blood of sprinkling brought into the conscience, and which the royal penitent so pathetically breathes after, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."—The dismission of the living bird into the open field, may denote the resurrection of the Son of God, or that his divine nature was untouched by death. Or, as the living bird received its liberty when dipped in the blood of the dead one; so we are made to know the power of his resurrection by the fellowship of his sufferings, and may truly say, "Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers." Psalms 124:7. The leper was now required to shave his hair, and wash himself and his clothes in water: which points forth to us this momentous truth, that our being sprinkled by our High-Priest with his blood, does not at all supersede the necessity of cleansing ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit. There is no person who partakes this glorious privilege, that endeavours not as his duty to purify himself, to lay aside all superfluity of naughtiness, to put off the old man, and to hate even the garment spotted with the flesh, by having no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.

2nd, On the eighth day the trespass, sin, and burnt offerings, with the fine flour and the oil, were to be offered. The blood of the trespass-offering was to be applied to several of the extreme parts of the leper's body; and, above the blood, the oil was to be applied. These peculiar ceremonies were doubtless very significant: as if the priest had said to the leper, "I put this blood and this oil on your ear, now you are free to hear the word of God: I put them on your thumb, now you may handle any thing, and not defile it: I put them on your toe, now you may go where you please, and men will not avoid your society." But what forbids us to think of greater things? These particular parts of the body may signify the perceptive and executive faculties, in both which we offend, and for both which we need the great propitiation. Was not this the language of that solemn rite? "Now you are made clean, let all your faculties and powers be devoted to the service of God. Let your ears be open to the commands of God. Let the works of your hands be established and accepted by him. Let your footsteps be ordered in his word." The oil that was put upon the blood, most certainly signifies the Holy Ghost, as a spirit of sanctification. By the merit of Christ's blood God forgives all our iniquities; and by the oil of his spirit he heals all our diseases. By the first we are justified; by the second we are sanctified. By the one, sin shall not condemn, to suffer the punishment it deserves; and by the other, it shall not command, to obey the orders it gives. And whereas the remnant of the oil in the priest's hand, was to be poured on the head of him who was cleansed; this most undoubtedly prefigured the shedding of the Holy Ghost abundantly on us through Jesus Christ our Saviour. It is said in one place, "Ye have an unction from the holy One;" 1 John 2:20 and in another, He who hath anointed us, is God; who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the spirit in our hearts." 2 Corinthians 1:21-22.

How impious a part had that Israelite acted, who had contented himself with making application to the physician, without having recourse to the priest! Alas! the balm in Gilead could not supply the place of the sacrificial blood. Nor do they act a less impious part, who resort to their own legal endeavours for the cure of their leprosy of sin, but not to Jesus Christ the High Priest, who stands ready with his hyssop and blood. Can the rivers of Damascus compare with the waters of Israel? Bring us, O Lord, to the Jordan of thy grace for the cleansing of these leprous souls! "Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make us clean. O sprinkle us with hyssop, and we shall be whiter than the snow."


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Leviticus 14:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 28th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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